Fellowship | Workers' rights

Poverty, insecurity, death

By - 10.12.2018

Kosovar construction workers are risking their lives for work.

Valon Berisha woke up early, as usual, to go to work on May 24 this year. He traveled for about 18 kilometers from the village of Vasilevë in the municipality of Gllogovc to Fushë Kosova, where he worked as a simple construction worker, paid 250 euros a month, on the construction of a petrol station facility.

That morning he was supposed to clean up the site and remove the construction materials that were no longer needed for the continuation of the works.

But his day ended early, at 7:35 a.m., when, while carrying out his task, Valon suffered a fatal accident — he fell from the second floor.

“I was on the ground floor when I heard a scream, and something slam on the ground; I immediately ran to look,” says Urim Hyseni, another worker on site and the only eyewitness of the event.

Hyseni had gone to the facility that morning only to get his working gear before traveling to Gllogovc. “I saw Valon who had fallen from the top floor. I went out on the road and stopped a taxi to give him first aid, but we didn’t dare touch him. Then we stopped a police unit, who notified the ambulance.”

The doctors declared him dead at the scene.

The late Valon Berisha would have turned 30 this July. He was a healthy man; his hobby and the profession of his dreams was physical education.

He had trained to be a teacher. He completed his studies at the Faculty of Sports Education in the University of Prishtina in 2010, but it wasn’t until six years later that he was hired as a teacher with a temporary contract for several months at a school in Gllogovc, as a substitute for another.

Forced to seek alternative work to support himself and his family, he turned to construction. It ended up being his last job. He left behind an unemployed wife and two little children, who now live with her parents and rely on them for financial support.

Valon Berisha left behind a wife and two children when he suffered a fatal accident at work aged 29. Here, he is pictured on his wedding day. Photo from Valon Berisha’s Facebook account.

Valon’s story is not uncommon. His is one of 10 construction workers to have lost their lives in the workplace by October of this year alone, according to the Labour Inspectorate. The number was the same in 2017, while in 2016 there were seven construction industry workplace deaths.

The construction sector employs more male employees in Kosovo compared to any other sector and, according to the 2017 Labour Force Survey by the Kosovo Agency of Statistics (ASK), it employs about 13 percent of the entire labor force. The sector remains the most widespread job choice due to its unskilled nature and the high level of unemployment and poverty in the country.

Last year, the unemployment rate was 30 percent, but that number jumps to 52 percent among people aged 15-24. Meanwhile, poverty continues to remain high with about 18 percent of citizens living below the consumption poverty line of 1.82 euros or less per day in 2015, while 5 percent lived in extreme poverty on just 1.30 euros a day.

The fact that construction employs a large number of workers is also related to the rapid development the sector has seen since the end of the 1999 war. By the year 2000, there were 769 active construction businesses registered at the Kosovo Business Registration Agency. By 2009, the number had reached 5,252 registered businesses, and by August of this year 12,349 had registered, meaning that in the last nine years the number of construction businesses has increased by 135 percent.

In Prishtina alone, between 2012 and May 2018, a total of 852 construction permits were granted, of which 385 were for multi-storey or commercial buildings. During the same period, in Fushë Kosova, where 29-year-old Valon lost his life, there were 254 multi-storey residential buildings constructed.

Such constructions require a large workforce. Nebih Zariqi, owner of the Standard Company, which works with multi-storey buildings primarily in Prishtina, says that in order to build a 7,000 square meter building, which on average contains nine floors and 52 apartments with surfaces of 75-80 square meters, at least 35 employees are needed.

“With this number of workers, if you work continuously, the building will be ready in 14 months,” Zariqi says.

A 2017 World Bank research report says the rights of construction workers in Kosovo are frequently being violated. It claims that about 52 percent of workers in the construction sector work without any employment contracts, regularly work overtime, and are not paid for the extra hours or for holidays. It also says that they work without getting any annual leave unless they take it without pay, and that they endure many other violations.

Kosovo’s Labour Law states that employees are entitled to at least one day of leave a week, a paid day off on official holidays, and four weeks of vacation a year. If a worker gets married, according to the law, they are entitled to five paid days off, and three paid days off upon the birth of an offspring.

The deceased Valon Berisha worked in construction for three years and had an employment contract with Timo Construction, but according to his brother Ramadan, it was never fully respected.

“During holidays he would have days off, but not get paid for them, and he had no other days off,” he says. “Only on Sundays was he ever off. When he got married, they gave him no break. He had his wedding on a Sunday, and the next day he went to work. He never had any parental leave either.”

A report by the Labour Inspectorate on this case, issued on June 16, states that the employment contract signed by the employer and the deceased did not make clear the full responsibilities of the job as related to his professional training — again, this is in contradiction to the Labour Law (Article 11).

But Valon Berisha’s case uncovered even more serious and urgent problems in the construction sector, related to non-compliance with the Law on Occupational Safety and Health, which is endangering workers’ lives.

His brother Ramadan says that, according to information obtained from Valon’s colleagues, on the day of the accident he did not have a safety belt and photos of the site on the day of the accident show there was no scaffolding at the facility.

According to the Labour Inspectorate report, the deceased was not wearing a helmet. “The deceased worker was wearing work clothes, gloves and shoes, but not a protective helmet on his head,” the report said.

A photo from the Labour Inspectorate’s report shows the site where Valon Berisha fell to his death in May 2018.

According to the report, the employer was not present on the critical day at the facility where the works were done and stated that he only gave orders for tasks to be done. The report adds that the workers acted without knowing what materials to remove, from where, where to place them or with what tools to remove them.

“In the specific case, the deceased worker had conducted tasks while uninformed and not guided,” claims the Inspectorate in the report.

The Inspectorate issued a fine of 10,500 euros to Timo Construction on July 27 this year due to violations of the two basic labor laws. When contacted for comment by K2.0, the company owner, Xhafer Leku, refused to add more about Berisha’s case, apart from saying that he had declared everything to the Labour Inspectorate and the police at the Fushë Kosovë station.

Due to safety issues, and following concern expressed by the European Union Office in Kosovo, as of November 15 this year, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare’s Labour Inspectorate had suspended work on 101 construction sites. This action marks an unprecedented effort to uphold policy in the labor sector in Kosovo.

According to Chief Inspector Basri Ibrahimi, this is the first time such a step has been undertaken to ensure that work on these construction sites is stopped until safety conditions have been met.

This decision by the Inspectorate came in the face of an increasing public outcry in response to the deaths of construction sector workers. A protest held in October this year in Prishtina marked one of the first public demonstrations to be organized in the past decade or so that addressed construction workers’ safety and rights.

While some might view them only as future residential buildings or business premises, these sites have often served as symbols of injustice and workers’ lack of socio-economic prospects, in the most extreme cases, resulting in a worker’s death.

Construction work ID: Many injuries, zero insurance

Rafet Hasani has also looked into the eyes of death. The injuries he sustained while working on the construction of a factory building in the village of Zhabar near Mitrovica in 2014 nearly proved fatal.

On December 12 that year, as he and his fellow workers had almost finished laying the concrete on a floor base, the concrete, along with the other materials, collapsed causing Hasani and eight other workers to fall five meters to the ground. Other workers survived without any great consequences, but Rafet, now 34 years old, was badly injured.

“They barely found me,” Rafet says. “I was completely covered, but a worker managed to see my face. After a few minutes, I lost consciousness.”

His ribs and liver were damaged in the fall, and he required a nine-hour surgical intervention at the University Clinical Center of Kosova (QKUK).

Fearful that the he might require further medical attention abroad, and knowing that his ID card was soon to expire, Rafet’s family worked to obtain a passport for him while he remained in a coma.

After five weeks, Rafet came out of his coma without receiving foreign medical treatment, but to this day, the mention of ‘identity cards’ brings him discomfort; a constant reminder of the injuries he endured, as in the photo he is comatosed with an oxygen tube in his mouth.

At first, he did not recognize anyone, but a few days later his memory returned. He says he needed a year to start walking again and to go out and about without assistance.

“Especially in the first few years, I was in a lot of pain,” he says. “Even now, I feel pain from time to time.”

Before his accident, Rafet had spent about six years working for Bashkimi company. But on the day of the accident he was working without a contract at Asi Univerzal 1, an independent business established by Ali Muharremi, one of the brothers who owned Bashkimi company’s parent company.

Muharremi told K2.0 that Rafet was not issued with an employment contract because he had not yet officially registered his newly established business. He says he had shared the previous business with his brothers and had planned to register the new one after completing the facility that they were working on at the time of the accident.

In the past Rafet would earn 13 euros per working day; now he is without income.

Despite the lack of a contract, Rafet says that his expenses for the treatment at QKUK were covered by Muharremi; but after leaving the hospital, he claims he was no longer assisted by his employer, except for one occasion when the owner’s brother paid for a stay in a spa.

According to Article 60 of the Labour Law, employers are obliged to pay for insurance that compensates the expenses in cases of worker injury or occupational disease. Furthermore, Article 59 of the Labour Law entitles all employees to 20 days of annual paid sick leave, and in the case that injury or illness is the result of work, the worker is entitled to an additional 10 to 90 days of leave at 70 percent pay.

The injuries sustained at work have drastically impacted the lives of Rafet and his family. He lives with his parents, two sisters and a brother, and says that ever since the accident he has not been capable of working or helping the family and has become a burden to them.

In the past, he says, he would earn 13 euros per working day; now he is without income.

Rafet says he cannot even do light work yet and that the accident at work might well cost him his future welfare. Yet he hopes that his former employer will keep a promise made two years ago to give him an apartment in Mitrovica.

Ali Muharremi says they have not been able to help Rafet more after he came out of hospital, but he vows that if the work goes well, he will prioritize helping his former worker.

“The apartment has been promised by my brother [the owner of Bashkimi company],” he says. “I believe he will keep the promise.”

Currently, Rafet is attending a German language course, with the hope he might use it in the future, and with the desire to banish the accident from his mind.

The Labour Inspectorate has fined owner Muharremi 1,800 euros for both failing to meet safety requirements in the workplace — given that the pillars did not support the floor base — and for not having registered the company.

In addition to impairing tax collection, the non-reporting of businesses and labor damages workers themselves in cases of injuries because they may not acquire the rights provided under the applicable legislation, and are instead reliant on their employers’ promises.

Many men in Kosovo turn to work in the construction sector after struggling to find sufficient economic opportunity elsewhere. Photo: Fikret Ahmeti / K2.0 archives.

Yet, the legislation in force is not well developed, only awarding damages in cases in which permanent disability occurs, and even then only offering a monthly pension of 75 euros. Legislation does not take into account situations like that of Rafet, who still faces difficulties re-entering the labor market despite not having sustained permanent injury. On top of that, having worked without formal contracts, workers like Rafet are also deprived of the right to long-term sick leave. Therefore, the burden falls on individuals themselves and their families.

Meanwhile, in cases like that of Valon Berisha, where fatal injury occurred, the family is also entitled to a 75 euro pension based on the Law on Pension Schemes Financed by the State.

Data indicates that workplace injuries are underreported. In the the Labour Inspectorate’s 2017 annual report, there are only 30 cases of injuries in the construction sector, whereas until September this year 39 injuries were reported.

But the number seems to be significantly larger.

K2.0 submitted a request to the regional hospitals and QKUK’s Emergency Clinic to keep special records of construction workers who sought medical assistance due to work-related injuries during July this year.

As a result, 10 cases were evidenced in July at the regional hospital in Peja and nine cases in Prizren’s hospital. Meanwhile, data sent by QKUK’s Emergency Clinic for the first half of 2018 shows that 26 people asked for medical intervention due to injuries sustained while working in construction.

This data shows that, even from a limited data sample, the number of injuries was greater than the official annual injury figures show, indicating that while a substantial number of workers are injured on the job, very few actually make complaints to the Labour Inspectorate, and in certain cases, especially those in which serious injury occurred, the informality is proving very costly.

“We do not have any physical or technical ability to trace this,” says Chief Inspector Basri Ibrahimi. “Ultimately, it is everyone’s personal obligation to look after their own interests.”

Weak and nonexistent health coverage

With construction workers often working on high buildings with specific and often risky tasks, regular health checkups and early identification of any potential health problems can prevent accidents at work.

Article 22, Paragraph 1 of the Law on Safety and Health at Work states that employers are obliged to provide all employees with medical examinations in licensed health institutions. There are two types of health checks, employment certification checkups and systematic checkups.

If workers were to have regular checkups and emergency doctors had a record of their health condition, this would help evaluate and promptly deal with a patient’s situation.

Basri Lenjani, director of the Emergency Clinic at QKUK

The former is conducted with the aim of diagnosing the general psycho-physical condition of the worker. They are generally conducted at the start of the job and are valid for six months.

Depending on a job’s demands, systematic checkups are conducted anywhere from once a year to once in three years. But construction workers are seldom sent for prior or routine health checkups, according to health institutions.

Luan Nagavci, acting chief executive officer of the Kosovo Occupational Health Center — the only public institution offering work related health services — says that many private companies, due to financial costs, only require employment certificates, as they are cheaper.

According to Nagavci, the cost of the certificate is 15 euros, while the average cost of a systematic checkup is 35 euros, with the possibility of further costs depending on whether additional checkups and analysis are required.

Based on data from the Kosovo Occupational Health Center, 29 construction workers carried out systematic checkups in 2015, while 19 did so in 2016. In the last two years, however, there have been no systematic checkups but only checkups for employment certificates of which 54 were carried in 2017. There were 56 in total by November 2018.

Nagavci says that employees having regular systematic checkups are particularly important given that the early identification of any health problem opens the possibility for the provision of professional medical treatment.

“[Systematic checkups] reduce the chance of injury at work, improve working conditions and the quality of work, reduce potential disability, and through them we can diagnose, monitor and treat any eventual illness,” Nagavci says.

The director of the Emergency Clinic at QKUK, Basri Lenjani, says that if workers were to have regular checkups and emergency doctors had a record of their health condition, this would help evaluate and promptly deal with a patient’s situation. “A swift treatment is a determining factor for patient survival,” he says.

According to Lenjani, a unified health information system, where there would be a record for each patient treated in any health institution, would help doctors.

Under the current conditions, he says, for every worker who has been injured and needs emergency treatment, it is imperative to undergo examinations from the outset.

This was the case with Rafet Hasani, with the medical intervention on him lasting more than a full working day.

He had not had any previous medical examination.

Understaffed Inspectorate detrimental to workers’ safety

In order to enforce the rules and regulations that are designed to see workers kept safe on the job, a wealth of trained inspectors are needed to complete inspections of businesses. Even if Kosovo were to double the number of inspectors that were employed in 2017, they still wouldn’t be able to come close to completing inspections of every business in one year.

According to data that K2.0 obtained from the Tax Administration, there are 85,566 businesses active in the private sector. Kosovo currently has 43 inspectors; during 2017 each inspector managed to conduct an average of 189 inspections a year.

If the number of inspections is estimated to be the same as that in 2017 and compared to the number of active businesses, the Labour Inspectorate has the capacity to inspect just 9.5 percent of businesses each year. This data accounts only for the private sector, which includes most of the construction sector, although the Inspectorate is also obliged to conduct inspections in public institutions.

If the salaries of half the deputy ministers were to be allocated to inspectors, there would be more than three times as many inspectors.

Inspectors verify employment relations such as contracts, working hours, vacations and workplace safety in terms of such things as workers’ equipment and tools, the working environment, and guidance and supervision provided.

Chief Inspector Basri Ibrahimi says the relatively small number of inspectors determines the number of inspections and the presence on the ground. He adds that over the years he has requested to have the number of inspectors increased but has not been supported due to a lack of budget.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare’s spokesperson, Musa Demiri, says that the employment of three new inspectors is expected by the end of 2018, and a further 15 in 2019.

Even with this anticipated increase, the number will still be small, a reflection of a longstanding lack of political will to address the perpetual rights violations of private sector workers.

Instead, successive governments have cultivated a culture that promotes privileges in the state bureaucracy.

For example, the bulging number of deputy ministers — 78 in total — in Kosovo’s current government is almost twice the number of inspectors in the country. If the salaries of half the deputy ministers were to be allocated to inspectors, there would be more than three times as many inspectors.

The basic salary of a deputy minister — without per diem earnings, phone expenses, cars and other bonuses — is 1,150 euros. If half of them, 39, had not been appointed, 44,850 euros a month would be saved, enough to employ 96 new inspectors on their current monthly salary of 464 euros.

In 2017, the Labour Inspectorate produced a special report on inspections in the construction sector, which it hadn’t done in previous years. According to the report, the Inspectorate carried out 1,147 inspections, issued 66 fines and 344 warnings, and legalized 245 employees who were previously working without employment contracts by issuing warnings and seeing that contracts were provided.

Compared to neighboring Albania and Macedonia, Kosovo has half the number of inspectors conducting field inspections, although those inspectors actually carried out more inspections than their counterparts in Albania. Unlike in Macedonia, and just like in Albania, there are no specialized inspectors for health and safety at work.

A comparison of three inspectorates in terms of performance and inspection capacities for 2017. Sources: Labour Inspectorates of Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.

Chief Inspector Ibrahimi says that based on annual assessments, the construction sector requires greater attention due to its deviations from laws.

“In all respects, the Labour Law and the Law on Safety and Health at Work are being violated in the construction sector,” Ibrahimi says.

But even when employers have been identified by the Inspectorate as having violated employees’ rights, there’s little action taken beyond an issued warning and fine, despite Kosovo’s Criminal Code providing the possibility of criminal prosecution and imprisonment for employers that fail to secure a safe work environment. In fact, the Inspectorate has never issued a criminal report against an employer to the State Prosecution, even when those violations resulted in a worker’s death.

Milaim Morina from the Center for Policies and Advocacy, an organization monitoring the work of the Labour Inspectorate, says this practice must change. “Criminal charges should be pressed, given the Inspectorate is also responsible for assessing the circumstances that lead to accidents,” he says.

Morina supports the creation of a specialized body of inspectors for occupational health and safety along the lines of similar models in Macedonia and Croatia.

According to inspectors and observers, violations of labor terms also result from shortcomings in the current Labour Law regarding the duration of working contracts. The chief inspector says that consequently many construction workers only have quarterly contracts and therefore are unwilling to complain about violations due to job insecurity. With Kosovo’s unemployment rate so high, there is no shortage of potential replacement labor available to employers.

Trade unions not very visible

In many political systems, workers’ voices are best represented by the trade unions, which promote their interests. But in Kosovo, the unions are not very visible and are rarely turned to by workers in the construction sector despite numerous violations of workers’ rights.

Despite this, a May 1 (Labor Day) protest held this year gathered more people than previous iterations, including representatives of leftist parties such as Vetëvendosje and the Social Democrat Party (PSD), with the speakers addressing the standard workers’ topics such as minimum wages, equality and working conditions.

Avni Ajdini, chair of the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Kosovo (BSPK) says the trade unionists feel helpless to improve the grave situation of workers in the construction sector.

He says BSPK was even banned by some large companies from establishing union associations within them. “We have no right to even visit where we have no members…,” Ajdini says. “Seven years ago we tried in Bechtel & Enka and in Mabetex, but were not allowed to open trade union associations.”

In the meantime, Bechtel & Enka was fined 7,500 euros by the Labour Inspectorate following the death on October 28 last year of an employee who was working on construction of the Arbën Xhaferi highway in the village of Kovaçec near Kaçanik. Spokesperson Ela Ruçi told K2.0 she would look into K2.0’s questions regarding the establishment of a union, but has not provided answers since September 18, 2018.

K2.0 also contacted Islam Pacolli, who according to BSPK’s Ajdini, opposed the establishment of a trade union association within the Mabetex Company. But Pacolli, who at that time was a representative of this company for Kosovo, denies the suggestion that he stopped BSPK from operating.

“I did not forbid them, as I could not even prevent or create a trade union association for him,” Pacolli said.

Trade unions claim workers usually do not file written complaints and hesitate to disclose their identity in fear they will be dismissed by their employer. Consequently, their rights remain almost entirely on paper alone.

For Jusuf Azemi, head of the Private Sector Workers’ Union operating under the BSPK umbrella, the violation of construction workers’ rights occurs because the company owners and the state itself do not care about them.

He says that a survey conducted with construction company workers in 2017 showed 50 percent of workers had no employment contracts or the necessary gear for work, while the same poll this year showed a worse situation with over 60 percent of respondents emerging without employment contracts.

“We ask every day: ‘Do you have employment contracts, is your pension fund paid, is your work intern paid, how long are your salaries delayed?” Azemi claims.

Jusuf Azemi, head of the Private Sector Workers’ Union, says that workers’ rights violations occur in the construction sector as a result of the state’s and company owners’ disregard for workers’ safety. Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0 archives.

The survey does not have a structured questionnaire, number of respondents, or any specific analysis methodology, but is based on impressions and generalizations created by visiting construction workers and conversations about working conditions.

“Let me take an example: If you visit 20 companies working in construction, only two of them have [workers with] helmets on their heads, or the necessary gear,” Azemi says.

According to the trade union head, one of the other violations committed by employers is long working hours. He says workers usually start working at 7 a.m. and on average continue until 6 p.m.. So instead of working a regular full time day of eight hours, they do 11 hours.

“Within a week the owner of the company gains one, eventually two more days from the workers without paying them,” Azemi says.

Azemi says that they have informed all relevant state institutions about the violations of the workers’ rights that they have noted. “We have officially informed the president, the president of the Assembly, the prime minister, the Ministry of Labour, the Labour Inspectorate and the Tax Administration of Kosovo,” he says. “But we do not see any concrete thing being done to improve their situation.”

No other forms of advocacy by the trade unions, however, appear to have taken place.

Rasim Alija from Democracy for Development (D4D), an NGO that has produced research reports on the functioning of trade union organizations, says that unions in Kosovo, including BSPK, have lost the trust of workers due to the way they operate and by flirting with power.

“They have reduced the power and role of trade union organizations in memoranda of cooperation with the government that were worth nothing,” Alija says. “You cannot be part of an organization or a trade union network if your interest as a worker is disregarded, reduced and not addressed in any form or to anyone.”

He claims that without improving union organization in the private sector, it will be difficult to represent or protect the workers.

As a result, just as in many spheres, civil society organizations are trying to fill the void.

Legal adviser Florent Spahija and his team at the Kosovo Democratic Institute (KDI) provide free legal advice to both private and public sector workers who reach out to them seeking assistance. Their assistance includes providing help with writing complaints, collecting documentation, addressing issues at the Labour Inspectorate and Tax Administration of Kosovo as well as other forms.

He says around 70 private sector workers seeking assistance in the last four years have stated that they have no employment contracts but only verbal agreements between the parties.

Although some workers know their rights are being violated, they are reluctant to initiate legal proceedings.

Florent Spahija, KDI

Furthermore, he adds, workers complain about non-payment of pension contributions, non-payment of wages regularly and on time, lack of workplace safety, failure to pay annual holidays, refusal to grant days off during official holidays, dismissal without notice and other issues.

Legal proceedings have now been opened in some of these cases, according to Spahia, although he adds that some workers are reluctant to take this step even when they know their rights are being violated. “They usually say it’s tedious and give up on initiating any procedures, which is sad,” he says.

Only a few cases relating to the violation of workers’ rights have been sent to the courts. According to data K2.0 obtained from Kosovo Judicial Council, in 2017 Kosovo’s courts only received four cases of criminal offenses against labour rights, the same number as in 2016, while only two were received in 2015.

As a result of these cases, in 2017 one person was imprisoned, two were fined and one given a suspended sentence.

Regarding the criminal offenses provided for in Article 367, Paragraph 8 of the Criminal Code, which relates specifically to occupational health and safety, last year the general departments of Kosovo’s courts received 36 cases; that’s double the 18 received in 2016, while in 2015 there were just 14 cases received. Meanwhile, the serious crimes departments received one case in 2015, four cases in 2016, and five in 2017.

But only a small number of such cases are closed within a year, and others are transferred from one year to another. And construction workers are even less likely to undertake legal steps than other workers.

New draft law to take first step toward protecting future workers

One positive signal appears to be the increase in public advocacy and pressure, which has led to steps being taken toward legislative change, specifically in regard to the insufficient role of the Inspectorate.

In response to the heightened outcry about working conditions, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare is preparing a new draft law, which received various comments and proposals from different parties by its October 25 deadline.

According to Chief Inspector Ibrahimi, the Inspectorate has asked to specify that a contract should have a minimum duration of one year. Spokesperson Musa Demiri says the Ministry is considering “all the proposals” made.

Ibrahimi says the greatest worry for the Inspectorate remains safety at work. He says that is why the Ministry issued additional regulations for implementation of the Law on Safety and Health at Work in 2017, including the mandatory introduction of a certified risk assessment expert in each company with more than 50 employees.

Chief Inspector Basri Ibrahimi says that Kosovo’s Labour Inspectorate is understaffed and therefore only a limited number of inspections can take place, but that action is being taken to change that. Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0 archives.

As of November last year, four companies had already been licensed to issue qualifications and have started to conduct workplace risk assessments as well as training others in this area.

So far, 55 safety at work experts have been certified, a small sign, among others, that some companies are prepared to take health and safety seriously.

The Idea Invest Company, for example, has trained a worker in terms of risk assessment and they are expected to be formally certified. The company owner, Mustafa Grainca, says he expects that the training of this employee will affect further improvement of safety conditions at work in his company.

Meanwhile, the owner of the Standard Company, Nebih Zariqi says that his company oversees the workers and that they issue disciplinary remarks or even fines in wages in cases where they are careless and do not wear their safety gear. He points out that construction companies need to pay special attention to danger sites such as elevators, staircases and terraces, and that workers must be careful to always wear their helmets and have their safety belts attached.

A former chair of the Construction and Building Material Manufacturers Association of Kosovo — a body dealing with the protection of builders rights and interests with 150 construction companies as members — Zaqiri says that there has been an improvement in terms of safety at work in high buildings compared to previous years.

According to Zariqi, a particular improvement is the use of scaffolding, which he considers to be very important for worker safety. “The employer must provide the equipment and monitor its use by the workers, while workers must take more care of themselves,” Zariqi says, adding that there is a need for more frequent inspections by the Labour Inspectorate at the working sites.

While this action comes too late for men like Valon Berisha, Rafet Hasani and others who, in an effort to escape poverty, risk and sometimes lose their lives for employment, it is a small step toward ensuring future workers don’t suffer the same fate. Still, there is a long way to go.

Editing by Artan Mustafa.
Additional editing: Besa Luci, Jack Butcher.
Language editing: Lauren Peace.

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

This article was written as part of K2.0’s Human Rights Journalism Fellowship, 2018.

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