ASTRA identified the first victim of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation in 2005. Since then, we have recorded over 120 cases of labor exploited persons, and almost a quarter of calls made to our SOS line during 2019 (close to a thousand calls) were related to checking job offers in Serbia and abroad.
This year, due to the appearance of the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus, is specific. The epidemic has slowed down global migration, even economic ones, but it has also made system failures more visible. In our case, these shortcomings of the system are primarily related to the lack of adequate state response to the deepening economic crisis, increasing the risk of human trafficking for labor exploitation, and inadequate support and assistance to victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the ASTRA’s SOS line has recorded an increase in the number of calls over 70%, and a good part of them relate to job loss or fear of losing a job or checking business offers in our country. As for the number of identified victims, by the end of September, the ASTRA Victim Support Team had identified 29 victims of trafficking (including one (1) child): of that number, 24 are victims of labor exploitation – 23 men, including 19 foreign nationals, and one (1) women.
Project/campaign “Labor Rights – Now!" in a short period of realization involved a significant part of the public and reached final beneficiaries. Bearing in mind that the conditions for implementing the project’s activities were entirely changed due to the pandemic of the Covid-19 virus, the emphasis was placed on the online campaign. We had 105 posts on all ASTRA’s social networks in total. Facebook’s posts total reach was precisely 204.660, of which 9.773 engagements, i.e., click on the link, visits to the page, and video views. During the campaign, 25.100 impressions were recorded on Twitter. In that period, about 80% of the posts on this network were related to this campaign. Besides, pages in Serbian and English dedicated exclusively to this campaign were created on the ASTRA website. Serbian page was visited 600 times, and page in English 91 time.
Given that the dissemination of printed materials was also a challenge, thanks to cooperation with representatives of other sectors – specifically labor unions and education workers – we could reach the campaign’s final beneficiaries (persons at risk of being trafficked for labor exploitation). These processes are described in more detail in the description of the action.
The Covid-19 virus pandemic significantly affected the realization of another segment of the project – creating a public discussion with stakeholders on the topic of combating human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation and ways of prevention. The public discussion was started online, disseminating information, findings, and materials related to the “Labor Rights – Now!" campaign. However, it was supposed to culminate in two major public events. Unfortunately, due to the appearance of the Covid-19 virus and the proclamation of preventive measures, it was not possible to realize these events in the way it was stated in the project proposal. The first event (campaign launching) was organized exclusively online, and the second event (presentation of the results of the campaign and the publication “Recommendations for the prevention of labor exploitation") was organized in a reduced volume live and online at the same time. The good news is that thanks to thorough preparations, sending invitations to stakeholders, and animating stakeholders during the campaign, we were able to attract the desired number of participants to both events. Besides, both of these events were marked by a lively discussion. Some of the topics raised in these discussions have found their place in the publication “Recommendations for the Prevention of Labor Exploitation," which points to gaps in the legal framework governing labor and workers’ rights and ways to overcome them.
The period in which this project was implemented required flexibility in the implementation of planned activities. But also, the moment itself contributed to the project’s content in two ways. The influx of workers from abroad (from India, Turkey, Pakistan, China, Albania…) has continued in Serbia this year. They are mostly employed on construction sites through various intermediaries and work for minimum wages in inadequate, often life-threatening conditions, while their residence and employment are unregulated. They belong to the group of high risk when it comes to human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. Half of the campaign’s printed material was in English. Thanks to our associates from the Independent Road Workers’ Union, part of this material reached foreign workers on Serbia’s construction sites (our final beneficiaries).
Another topic related to respect for labor rights was brought up during the pandemic – the respect of workers’ rights during and after the state of emergency. The situation caused by the Covid-19 virus pandemic showed us that the government is ready to exceed its competencies to the detriment of workers’ rights. In this case, it primarily refers to medical workers and workers in other emergency services. One of the given recommendations in the Publication “Recommendations for the Prevention of Labor Exploitation" refers to this topic.
All this leads us to conclude that the topic of this project is current and that the project was realized at the right time and in the best possible way, having in mind the influence of a higher power – the Covid-19 virus pandemic. Besides, the project is sustainable. The ASTRA’s team plans to continue disseminating the information materials of this project and promote public discussion in the direction of legal changes that will improve workers’ position. It is evident that the trends, the increase in the number of victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation, economic migration, economic crisis, pandemic and migration caused by wars, indicate that the future solution of the problem of human trafficking for labor exploitation must be more thorough and intersectoral.