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Montenegro

Executive Summary

Montenegro is a mixed parliamentary and presidential republic with a multiparty political system. Voters choose both the president and the unicameral parliament through popular elections. The president nominates, and the parliament approves, the prime minister. An observation mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) stated the 2016 parliamentary elections were conducted in a competitive environment and that fundamental freedoms were generally respected. The opposition coalition did not accept the election results and began a continuing boycott of parliament, although all but two parties have since returned. In April 2018 Milo Djukanovic, president of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), was elected president, winning approximately 54 percent of the vote in the first round for his second term as president. He had already served six terms as prime minister. Observers from the OSCE/ODIHR, the European Parliament, and the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly noted the election proceeded in an orderly manner but had a few minor irregularities that did not affect the outcome. Despite opposition protests, elections were generally considered free and fair.

The National Police Force, which includes Border Police, is responsible for maintaining internal security. They are organized under the Ministry of Interior and report to the police director and, through him, to the prime minister. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unsolved attacks on journalists and pressure on the press including violence or threats of violence; corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Impunity remained a problem, since the government did not investigate or punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Unsolved attacks against journalists, political interference with the public broadcaster, smear campaigns carried out by progovernment tabloids, and unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies against independent and pro-opposition media remained a significant problem.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of political and social views, including through articles and programs critical of the authorities. The NGO Center for Civic Education warned in each of its annual reports since 2012, however, that selective and nontransparent public funding through the purchase of advertising continued to exert undue influence on the media market. According to the NGO, such funding was provided to reward media outlets favorable to the government and withheld from media that questioned official policies or practices.

The independent television station and newspaper Vijesti continued to attribute its difficulties making regular tax payments to unfair media conditions, economic pressure from the government, and selective prosecution. It complained of large government subsidies to the national public broadcaster, favoring progovernment media when distributing public funds through advertising and project tenders, and a favorable disposition towards foreign-based media compared with local outlets; it also alleged the judiciary practiced selective efficiency and application of defamation laws when independent media are involved. On April 17, an appellate court overturned a 2018 Commercial Court ruling that rejected a 2014 lawsuit brought by Vijestis parent company, Daily Press, against the progovernment tabloid Pink M Television for allegedly defaming and discrediting Vijesti. The appellate court returned the case to the Commercial Court for a readjudication, which continued at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: Unsolved attacks from previous years and an atmosphere of intimidation against media critical of the government continued to be a serious problem.

On February 19, police announced that the May 2018 shooting of Vijesti reporter Olivera Lakic in front of her home in Podgorica had been solved and named a known criminal and his gang as the perpetrators. Police arrested nine individuals for the attack on Lakic, but independent media questioned police findings because prosecutors had not yet brought formal indictments against the suspects. Lakic, whose investigative reporting covered crime and corruption in the country, was previously attacked in 2012. Government officials, political parties, and international and multilateral organizations condemned the 2018 attack.

On October 14, the High Court of Bijelo Polje fined Nova M, the company that acquired Pink M in 2018, 2,000 euros ($2,200) for defaming Vijestis owners Zeljko Ivanovic and Miodrag Perovic. The basic court had originally ordered a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,500). Ivanovic and Perovic sued Pink M for its misleading reporting connecting them to a former Vijesti journalist suspected of collecting and distributing child pornography on the internet. Separately, 20 journalists from Vijesti individually sued Pink M for similarly attacking their reputations by misleadingly linking them to the accused. As of November, first instance courts had ruled in favor of 19 of the journalists, ordering Nova M to pay fines ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 euros ($1,100 to $5,500), with higher courts subsequently lowering the fines to 800 to 2,000 euros ($880 to $2,200). Vijesti welcomed the court decisions but criticized state institutions for being inefficient in preventing progovernment tabloids from waging smear campaigns against independent media.

On December 3, journalist Vladimir Otasevic, who worked for the independent daily newspaper Dan, was assaulted while photographing controversial Montenegrin businessman Zoran Becirovic, whom the special prosecutor had previously brought in for questioning regarding an alleged attempt to intimidate a witness in the company of high state prosecutor Milos Soskic, in a shopping mall in Podgorica. According to media reports, Becirovic’s bodyguard Mladen Mijatovic grabbed Otasevic by the back of the neck, used his shoulder to hit him, and verbally threatened him. The assault reportedly occurred in the presence of Soskic, who according to media reports “remained silent” and did nothing to stop the incident. The incident received additional attention as Mijatovic is employed by the Ministry of Interior and did not have permission to work as a private bodyguard. The Ombudsman’s Office, media outlets, NGOs, and opposition political parties condemned the attack and urged the authorities to investigate the role of the state prosecutor and the Interior Ministry’s employee in this incident.

Media outlets reported that more than two-thirds of the 85 attacks on journalists since 2004 remained unsolved or did not result in sentences. Observers also noted that the vast majority of the attacks targeted independent or pro-opposition journalists and media professionals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent and pro-opposition media complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. The Center for Civic Education claimed that selective and nontransparent distribution of public funds to media outlets created an unfair media environment and constituted “soft censorship.”

On December 4, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court in Podgorica’s June 1 ruling making it final that the managing council of the public broadcaster Radio and Television Montenegro (RTCG) illegally dismissed RTCG’s director general, Andrijana Kadija, in 2018. Of the nine-member council, six representatives affiliated with the ruling DPS voted for Kadija’s dismissal. Kadija maintained she was dismissed because of her professional and politically unbiased managing of RTCG. The EU and the OSCE sharply criticized the dismissal.

Independent journalists, civil society activists, and opposition politicians asserted that Kadija’s dismissal was the final step in DPS’s campaign to regain control of the public broadcaster. That campaign, they claimed, began late in 2017 when parliament dismissed two RTCG council members, film director Nikola Vukcevic and NGO activist Goran Djurovic, allegedly over conflicts of interest. On February 28 and in December 2018, in separate rulings, the basic courts in Podgorica and Niksic, respectively, ruled that parliament’s dismissals of Djurovic and Vukcevic were illegal and annulled the parliament’s decisions on the dismissals. Parliament contested the court’s ability to adjudicate parliamentary decisions on appointments and dismissals and order reinstatement, and it did not comply with the decision. On June 27, the Supreme Court issued a nonbinding but advisory general legal opinion stating that courts cannot challenge parliamentary decisions on elections, appointments, and dismissals of public officials and force reappointments via injunctive relief.

On October 25, in a retrial, the basic court in Podgorica reversed its February ruling and dismissed Djurovic’s lawsuit against the parliament. The NGO Human Rights Action warned that the reversal, influenced by the Supreme Court’s earlier opinion, showed there is no effective legal protection against the parliamentary majority’s illegal decisions. Nonetheless, actions for monetary damages for illegal dismissals remained available.

On September 24, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court in Podgorica’s February 7 ruling that RTCG director general Bozidar Sundic, who replaced Kadija, illegally dismissed Kadija’s first associate, RTCG’s Television Section director Vladan Micunovic. Commenting on the verdict, Micunovic described the decision on his replacement, as well as the replacements of Kadija, Vukcevic, and Djurovic as a “totalitarian purge and a mockery of the law, profession, and common sense.”

On September 24, the High Court in Podgorica ordered the state government and the former editor-in-chief of the daily Pobjeda, Srdjan Kusovac, to pay a total of 10,000 euros ($12,000) to journalists of the independent weekly newspaper Monitor, Milka Tadic Mijovic and Milena Perovic, for damaging their “reputation and honor.” Kusovac, the incumbent head of the Montenegrin government’s public relations bureau, and the state government were also ordered to pay an additional fine of nearly 4,000 euros ($4,400) for court expenses. The formerly state-owned daily Pobjeda, under Kusovac’s leadership, published a series of articles in 2011-2012 attempting to discredit the two independent journalists and strong government critics.

In its 2019 Report on Montenegro, published on May 29, the European Commission (EC) noted the country made no progress in advancing freedom of expression since April 2018. The EC specifically warned that “recent political interference in the national public broadcaster council and the Agency for Electronic Media are a matter of serious concern.”

Some media outlets continued to demonstrate a willingness to criticize the government. A lack of training and unprofessional journalistic behavior, combined with low salaries and political pressure, contributed to self-censorship and what could be deemed biased coverage.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is no criminal libel law, but media outlets faced libel charges in civil proceedings.

According to a February report of the NGO Center for Civic Education, more than 60 percent of all complaints filed with the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) in 2015-18 were against Pink M, usually related to unprofessional and unethical reporting aimed at discrediting media and civil society figures critical of the government. In 39 of the cases, the AEM found that Pink M had violated the agency’s program principles and standards. The AEM took no disciplinary actions against Pink M during the year since the broadcaster sold its national frequency and moved to cable transmission in the second half of 2018, significantly reducing its reach and Montenegro-related content.

On July 18, the Constitutional Court overturned the 2015 Podgorica Supreme Court and the High Court decisions to fine independent weekly newspaper Monitor 5,000 euros ($5,500) for the alleged defamation of President Milo Djukanovic’s sister, Ana Kolarevic, in the weekly’s 2012 reports about Kolarevic’s alleged role in the controversial privatization of the national telecommunication company, Telekom Crna Gora. The Constitutional Court found that the lower instance courts had violated Monitors constitutional right to freedom of expression and returned the case for a retrial.

On September 12, an appellate court overturned, the High Court of Podgorica’s January 15 ruling to sentence investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic to 18 months in prison for allegedly being part of an international drug smuggling chain. Martinovic denies the charges of drug trafficking and criminal association, claiming that his contact with convicted criminals was solely in the context of his work as a journalist. The appellate decision sent the case back to the High Court for a retrial.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. Authorities did not employ methods for managing mixed migration movements effectively, such as prioritization or accelerated procedures. Observers noted that attention and readiness to address the increased mixed flow of migrants remained focused on border control aspects, as evidenced by the sharp rise in the number of migrants pushed back from the Montenegro border during the year.

Access to Basic Services: Once the asylum procedure is initiated, asylum seekers are granted access to free health care and education for minor applicants in line with international standards, although barriers to access, including language and cultural differences, sometimes limited practical access. For example, M.F. from Iran was not able to find a job because of poor command of the local language although he is officially registered with Employment Agency. F.K. from Ghana was not able to find a job because of language requirements. Many IDPs have difficulties obtaining documents, and thus accessing services such as healthcare, due to language barriers.

Durable Solutions: A path to citizenship is available but requires evidence that the applicant had renounced citizenship in his or her country of origin. The government provided support for the voluntary return or reintegration of DPs from countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed access to the same rights as citizens, including access to basic services and naturalization in the country, but they did not have the right to vote.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately five persons. By law persons granted subsidiary protection are entitled to a facilitated integration plan for three years after receiving status. The integration plan is tailored to the individual’s particular needs and includes support in accessing education, Montenegrin language classes, seeking employment, and the provision of accommodation for up to two years. Beneficiaries of refugee or subsidiary protection status may appeal a decision relating to their entitlements before the Administrative Court.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and corruption remained a problem. Some government officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The public viewed corruption in hiring practices based on personal relationships or political affiliation as endemic in the government and elsewhere in the public sector at both local and national levels. This was particularly the case in the areas of health, higher education, the judiciary, customs, political parties, police, urban planning, the construction industry, and employment. The Agency for the Prevention of Corruption continued to operate, but NGOs and the EC stated that “challenges related to the independence, credibility, and priority-setting of the agency are yet to be addressed.”

Agencies tasked with fighting corruption acknowledged that cooperation and information sharing among them was inadequate; their capacity improved but remained limited. Politicization, poor salaries, and lack of motivation and training of public servants provided fertile ground for corruption.

Corruption: Most citizen reports of corruption to the Agency for Prevention of Corruption involved public administration, the private sector, and the judiciary. After the Special Prosecutor’s Office issued an indictment against controversial businessman Dusko Knezevic for heading a criminal group that organized and executed the laundering of 500 million euros ($550 million) through Atlas Banka, which Knezevic owns, a video surfaced allegedly showing him providing bribes and illegal election financing to a top DPS official. The video, locally dubbed as “the envelope affair,” was followed by several large protests in February demanding the resignation of the president, the supreme state prosecutor, and the chief prosecutor for organized crime. Knezevic’s alleged criminal organization purportedly planned for several legal entities from the country partially to avoid paying taxes by utilizing falsified invoices for goods and services to launder funds. During the year Knezevic was reportedly living in the United Kingdom, where he was undergoing extradition proceedings. Knezevic previously had close ties with many officials from the country’s ruling party, the DPS. For his part Knezevic claimed that the charges were arranged by the highest government officials close to President Milo Djukanovic with the goal of taking over his businesses.

In May the Podgorica High Court confirmed the Special Prosecution’s indictment against 24 individuals in a massive cigarette smuggling case. Such excise tax avoidance operations were a key source of funds for organized crime groups in the country. The criminal organization included employees of the country’s customs service, and their operations resulted in an estimated 44-million-euro ($48.4 million) loss to the state.

In August the Special Prosecution in cooperation with the Special Police continued to make arrests in operation “Klap,” a nationwide anticorruption campaign against tax officials, private companies, and individuals. During the year authorities arrested 30 government officials, including four tax inspectors, and their partners in private companies. Several of those charged cooperated with authorities and negotiated plea bargains. Through their illegal activities, the suspects were estimated to have damaged the state budget by approximately five million euros ($5.5 million). Charges were also filed against nine companies involved in the scheme.

Police corruption and inappropriate government influence on police behavior remained problems. Impunity remained a problem in the security forces, according to the NGOs Human Rights Action. NGOs cited corruption, lack of transparency, and the ruling political parties’ influence over prosecutors and officials of the Ministry of Interior as obstacles to greater effectiveness. They noted there was no clear mechanism to investigate instances of impunity. There was also a widespread view that personal connections influenced the enforcement of laws. Low salaries sometimes contributed to corruption and unprofessional behavior by police officers.

Human rights observers continued to express concern over the low number of prosecutions of security force personnel accused of human rights abuses. Police did not provide information about the number of human rights complaints against security forces, or investigations into complaints. The prosecutor’s office, which is responsible for investigating such abuses, seldom challenged a police finding that its use of force was reasonable. Human rights observers claimed citizens were reluctant to report police misconduct due to fear of reprisals. Watchdog groups alleged that the continuing police practice of filing countercharges against individuals who reported police abuse discouraged citizens from reporting and influenced other police officers to cover up responsibility for violations. An external police oversight body, the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations, stated that identification of police officers who committed alleged abuses was problematic because officers wore masks and were not willing to admit personal responsibility. Although part of their uniform, the masks contributed to a de facto impunity because police officers who perpetrated abuses could not be identified, and their units and commanders were unwilling to identify one of their members.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires government officials to report any increases in value of personal property of more than 5,000 euros ($5,500) or any gift exceeding 50 euros ($55) to the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (APC). Violations of the obligation to file and disclose are subject to administrative or misdemeanor sanctions. Most officials complied with the requirements in a timely fashion. In the first six months of the year, however, the agency filed 179 requests to initiate misdemeanor proceedings against public officials who did not submit regular annual reports on income and assets or for breaking campaign finance laws; 40 of these proceedings resulted in fines that amounted to 8,745 euros total ($9,600).

NGOs urged the APC to pursue charges against President Djukanovic after indicted businessman Dusko Knezevic submitted documentation showing he had paid 16,000 euros ($17,600) of debt on the president’s credit card. The APC determined, however, that settling a public official’s debt on a credit card could not be considered as a gift.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated, generally without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to the views of international groups, but some domestic NGOs assessed this cooperation as uneven. In its 2019 Progress Report on Montenegro, the EC identified as “matters of serious concern” the practice of “controversial dismissals of prominent nongovernmental organizations’ representatives from key institutions and bodies” and a growing trend among public institutions of responding to requests for information by declaring it to be classified.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman served within the Office of the Protector of Human Rights to prevent torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment as well as discrimination. The Office of the Protector of Human Rights may investigate alleged government human rights violations and inspect such institutions as prisons and pretrial detention centers without prior notification. It may access all documents, irrespective of their level of secrecy, relating to detainees or convicts and talk to prisoners or detainees without the presence of officials. The office may not act upon complaints about judicial proceedings in process, except when the complaint involves delays, obvious procedural violations, or failure to carry out court decisions. The ombudsman may propose new laws, ask the Constitutional Court to determine whether a law violates the constitution or treaty obligations, evaluate particular human rights problems upon request of a competent body, address general problems important for the protection and promotion of human rights and freedoms, and cooperate with other organizations and institutions dealing with human rights and freedoms. Upon finding a violation of human rights by a government agency, the ombudsman may request remedial measures, including dismissal of the violator, and evaluate how well the agency implemented the remedial measures. Failure to comply with the ombudsman’s request for corrective action within a defined period is punishable by fines of 500 to 2,500 euros ($550 to $2,750). The government and courts generally implemented the ombudsman’s recommendations, although often with delays. The ombudsman operated without government or party interference and enjoyed cooperation from NGOs.

Parliament has a six-member Standing Committee for Human Rights and Freedoms. Many observers continued to perceive its contribution as insignificant and criticized its apparent sole focus on how international and European institutions assessed the country.

Some NGOs and international organizations criticized the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights for passivity stating that its capacity remained limited and needed further strengthening.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, including members of the armed forces, to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. In order to represent workers in collective bargaining at the enterprise level, a union must count at least 20 percent of the workforce in the enterprise as members. To act as a worker representative in a sector, group, or branch of industry, a trade union must include at least 15 percent of the total workforce in that sector, group, or branch. The law prohibits discrimination against union members or those seeking to organize a union and requires the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

The government generally enforced the law. Penalties were sufficient to deter most violations.

While the government generally respected freedom of association, employers often intimidated workers engaged in union activity. Workers exercised their right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining, although not always without employer interference.

Although allowed by law, collective bargaining remained rare. The government continued to be party to collective negotiations at the national level. Only the union with the largest registered membership at any given level was entitled to bargain, negotiate settlements of collective labor disputes, and participate in other government bodies.

The right to strike is restricted for public servants whose absence from work would jeopardize public interests, national security, the safety of persons and property, or the functioning of the government. International observers noted that the range of professions in which strikes are proscribed exceeds international standards. Employers may unilaterally establish minimum service requirements if negotiations with trade unions fail to lead to an agreement.

Management and local authorities often blocked attempts to organize strikes by declaring them illegal, citing lack of legally required advance notice, which ranges from two to 10 days, depending on circumstances. There were reports from employees in both the private and public sectors that employers threatened or otherwise intimidated workers who engaged in union organizing or in other legal union activities. In some cases, private employers reduced workers’ salaries or dismissed them because of their union activities.

Workers in privatized or bankrupt companies had outstanding claims for back pay and severance. In some cases workers were not able to collect on their claims, despite valid court decisions in their favor. Several local governments failed to pay their staff for months at a time. Unpaid wages, factory closures, and growing poverty led to some protests in older industrial cities such as Berane and Niksic, as well as the capital, Podgorica, where the workers of the long-closed Radoje Dakic factory again protested for unpaid wages nearly two decades after the factory’s closure. Trade unions claimed workers were largely unaware of their rights and afraid of retaliation if they initiated complaints.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and authorities made efforts to investigate or identify victims of forced labor in the formal economy. Penalties under the law for offenses related to forced labor were sufficiently stringent to deter violations compared to penalties for other serious crimes.

There were reports of Romani girls forced into domestic servitude and of children forced to beg, mostly by their families (see section 7.c.). There were no prosecutions or convictions.

Also see the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The official minimum age for employment is 15. Children younger than 18 may not engage in jobs that require difficult physical labor; overtime; work at night, underground, or underwater work; or work that “may have a harmful effect or involve increased risk to their health and lives,” although the law allows employees between the ages of 15 and 18 to work at night in certain circumstances. The government generally enforced these restrictions in the formal, but not the informal, economy.

Penalties under the law were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Inspectorate investigated compliance with the child labor law only as part of a general labor inspection regime. The government did not collect data specifically on child labor.

Many parents and relatives forced Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children to work at an early age to contribute to their family’s income. They engaged in begging at busy intersections, on street corners, door to door, and in restaurants and cafes or in sifting through trashcans. While many working children were from the country, a large percentage of those between the ages of seven and 16 were from nearby countries, mainly Kosovo and Serbia. Police generally returned the children they apprehended to their families.

In villages, children usually worked in family businesses and agriculture. Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children worked chiefly during the summer, typically washing car windows, loading trucks, collecting items such as scrap metal, selling old newspapers and car accessories, or working alongside their parents as day laborers. Many internally displaced Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children were forced to engage in begging or manual labor. Police asserted that begging was a family practice rather than an organized, large-scale activity, but this claim was disputed by several NGOs. Begging was readily observable, particularly in Podgorica and the coastal areas during the summer. Police seldom pressed charges against the adult perpetrators. Authorities placed victims of forced child labor who did not have guardians in the children’s correctional facility in Ljubovic. After leaving the facility, most children returned to forced begging. Romani NGOs tried to raise awareness of the problem and suggested the government did not provide sufficient resources to rehabilitate children begging and living on the street.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children, and section 7.b.).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion or other affiliation, national origin, citizenship, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, pregnancy, marital status, social status or origin, membership in political and trade union organizations, or health conditions, including HIV-positive status and other communicable diseases. The government did not enforce antidiscrimination laws and regulations effectively, and there were instances of discrimination on these bases. Persons with disabilities faced significant discrimination in employment despite affirmative action programs that provided significant financial incentives to employers to hire persons with disabilities. According to the state employment agency, less than 2 percent of persons with disabilities were employed. Advocates noted there were too few training programs for persons with disabilities to contribute significantly to their economic integration. Neither governmental entities nor private employers hired many persons with disabilities. NGOs reported employers often chose to pay fines rather than employ a person with a disability.

Women were, at times, subject to discrimination based on their marital status, pregnancy, or physical appearance. Employers did not respect all of their legal obligations to pregnant women and sometimes reduced their responsibilities or fired them after they returned from maternity leave. A disproportionate share of women held jobs with lower levels of responsibility than men. Employers promoted women less frequently than men. Some job announcements for women explicitly included discriminatory employment criteria, such as age and physical appearance. Employers at times violated women’s entitlement to a 40-hour workweek, overtime, paid leave, and maternity leave. Societal expectations regarding women’s obligations to the family reduced their opportunities to obtain jobs and advance in the workplace. Nevertheless, an increasing number of women served in professional fields, such as law, science, and medicine. Women accounted for less than 9 percent of personnel in the armed forces and National Police Force.

Bosniaks, who accounted for 9 percent of the country’s population, constituted 6 percent of the government workforce. Roma, displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers faced employment discrimination. Migrant workers usually came from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, or Albania to work on construction sites and in agriculture. There were also instances of discrimination against unregistered domestic and foreign workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to the National Statistics Office, the national monthly minimum wage, was slightly above the government’s absolute poverty line. Significant portions of the workforce–particularly in rural areas and in the informal sector–earned less than the minimum wage.

The law limits overtime to 10 hours per week, but seasonal workers often worked much longer.

Many workers, particularly women employed in the commercial, catering, and service industries, worked unpaid overtime, and employers sometimes forced them to work on religious holidays without additional compensation or to forgo their rights to weekly and annual leave. Employers sometimes failed to pay the minimum wage, other employee benefits, or mandatory contributions to pension funds. Employees often did not report such violations due to fear of retaliation. The practice of only formally paying a worker the minimum wage, thus being responsible for lower mandatory contributions, and giving the employee cash payments as a supplement was common. Also common was the practice of signing short-term work contracts or having lengthy “trial” periods for workers instead of signing them on to permanent contracts as prescribed by law.

Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals, sometimes taking years. This led to an increase in the number of persons seeking recourse through alternative dispute resolution. Most disputes reviewed by the Agency for Peaceful Resolution of Labor Disputes involved accusations of government institutions violating laws on overtime, night work, holidays, social insurance contribution requirements, and other administrative regulations.

The government set occupational health and safety standards that were current and appropriate for the main industries. Regulations require employers and supervisors to supply and enforce the use of safety equipment, conduct risk assessment analysis, and report any workplace deaths or serious injuries within 24 hours.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing wage, hour, and occupational health and safety laws. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance in the formal economy. Resources, remediation efforts, and investigations were not adequate to successfully identify, enforce, or prevent violations in the informal economy. Penalties for violation of wage and hour rules were insufficient to deter violations. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety standards were generally a sufficient deterrent in the formal sector. Labor inspectors have the legal authority to close an establishment until it corrects violations or to fine owners who commit repeated violations, although they rarely exercised this right in practice.

Employment in the construction, energy, wood-processing, transportation, and heavy industries presented the highest risk of injury. The most frequent reasons cited for unsafe working conditions were the lenient fines for violations of safety rules, failure to use safety equipment, lack of work-related information and training, inadequate medical care for workers, and old or inadequately maintained equipment.

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