Young people and their status in Serbia

The position of young people on the Serbian labor market is extremely unenviable. It’s hard to find a job and they rarely have the opportunity to get a permanent one.

They often work outside the field they have received a formal education for. Very often, they have jobs for which they are “overqualified, ”i.e., jobs that require less education than they have. Young Serbians are also more easily made redundant, as employers believe that older workers, if made redundant, will find it more difficult to find a new job. These beliefs are rather common in public. Almost everyone has some anecdotal evidence to support them. However, in a recent research paper “The young and dignified work”, published by Sarita Bradash within a NGO Center for Democracy, parameters on the position of young people on the Serbian labor market were quantified. The results of the research are not encouraging.

The position of young people is considered unfavorable compared to other age groups within the Serbian labor market and compared to their peers in the countries of the European Union. It’s also the subject of several documents that determine the government’s employment strategy. These include the “National Youth Strategy for 2015-2025” and the “National Employment Action Plan for 2018.” However, these documents are one-sided analysis which implies that young people do not have qualifications which are demanded by the labor market. This analysis, according to the author of the research, “does not show the position of young people in the context of a rather unfavorable general situation on the labor market characterized by a low level of economic activity, low job demand, high general unemployment rate, high underemployment rate, rationalization and ban on employment in public sector, low salaries, violations of labor rights, high rates of poverty and social exclusion.”

The survey on the position of young people on the labor market in Serbia included 399 unemployed and 400 employed participants between the ages of 16 and 30 from Belgrade, Vojvodina (cities of Novi Sad, Subotica, and Zrenjanin), Šumadija and Western Serbia (Kragujevac, Šabac, Kruševac, and Čačak), and South and East Serbia (Niš, Leskovac, Vranje, and Smederevo). The majority of the respondents live in urban areas (53 per cent).

Educational background and employment

The interviewed employees ranked the interaction aspects of employment the highest (relationship with colleagues and managers, 4.1/5) while the salaries got the lowest rankings (3.1/5). Most respondents are willing to change their jobs (57.5 per cent) due to low salaries, poor working conditions, and job insecurity.

The data provided by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia (Labor Force Survey, 2017) also show the relatively unfavorable position of young people on the labor market compared to other age groups.

According to research findings, more than one third of the young participants (34.5 per cent) have been on the National Employment Service records for more than a year. Long-term unemployment rate is the highest among those unemployed with the highest level of education (master degree), where almost half of the unemployed have been on the National Employment Service records for more than a year.

The respondents mostly believe the reasons for their unemployment are behind the peculiarities of the labor market: low salaries, nepotism, which is the result of poor job offers and poor working conditions. Interestingly, from the standpoint of social psychology, most unemployed respondents believe their chances of finding a job in the next six months are quite poor — about two-thirds of the participants think their prospects are dim.

Respondents answered questions about how they got their jobs — one-fifth actually applied for the job, while the great majority got the job through friends and family connections and direct contact with the employer.

One-third of the employed respondents have jobs that require higher qualifications than they hold; 46 per cent of participants have undergraduate degrees and have jobs requiring lower qualifications, while the percentage of the secondary school graduates is slightly lower — 39 per cent of them work in positions requiring lower professional qualifications.

Pay level

Judging by the income level, young people have a 20 per cent lower monthly salary, and every third employee has a salary lower than 2/3 of the median wage. Eight out of ten respondents have a salary lower than the national average, while one fifth earns a monthly salary lower than the minimum wage.

Those hired in Belgrade have the highest incomes, while half of the employees in Šumadija and Western Serbia, or in south and eastern Serbia, earn less than RSD30,000 a month. There are more women than men among those with the lowest incomes. Public sector wages are far higher than those in the private sector.

Labor and social rights

Only 40 per cent of the employed respondents has the right to join trade union organization, more than 50 per cent does not get paid overtime, and 39 per cent does not get reimbursement for transportation expenses.

According to the research, one-third of the unemployed and more than one third of the employed are willing to leave Serbia in search of a better job position (34.01 per cent and 37.84 per cent, respectively). “There are no significant differences in the intention to leave Serbiaif we take into account the socio-demographic features (education, gender, and place of residence),” Sarita Bradash wrote.

She made a conclusion that “limited employment opportunities and high unemployment rate leave young people with little choice: they accept insecure jobs for which they are underpaid or jobs for which they are overqualified, while having limited access to social insurance, and many are deprived of labor rights guaranteed by law.”

Based on their experience with the Serbian labor market and the perception of social circumstances, we can see that most young people consider Serbian society as “unfair,” as “not enough concerned about the poor” and as a society “where not everyone has equal opportunities, but success depends on connections, instead.” In the long run, such a perception of social reality can, unfortunately, lead to far more alarming consequences than current social issues.

Milica Milojević is an economist and analyst, a part-time economic journalist with corporate, banking, and consulting experience. She has written papers on monetary and political economics, and economic history of Serbia and the Balkans.

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