STA, 3 June 2019 - Employers have been struggling with a shortage of staff for a while, so after years of restrictions the door to hiring foreigners are now open wide. Despite several measures aimed at protecting workers from abroad, many of them are being exploited, especially in construction.
During the crisis years, the number of foreigners working in Slovenia plunged, but now that the economy has been expanding, it is rising again.
In 2008, more than 90,500 work permits were issued to third-country workers, while the number dropped to 15,990 together with those who also had a residence permit, data by the Employment Service show.
Last year, a total of 38,938 of single work and residence permits were issued. Most of the foreigners come from the former Yugoslav republics.
Since many of foreign workers were subjected to exploitation in the past, the Labour Ministry has been amending the labour legislation for a decade to prevent abuse. "Today we can say that the legislation in this field guarantees a high level of protection to foreign workers," the ministry told the STA.
A company can only hire a worker from abroad if it is paying out wages and social security contributions, does not have any tax debts to the state, is properly registered, has valid employment contracts, is not in receivership and if a Slovenian candidate cannot be hired for the post.
Those found to be breaking the law can be banned from hiring third-country citizens for up to two years.
But the ministry said it was still hard to prevent cases of deliberate violations, which border on human rights violations.
The Labour Inspectorate, which does not keep a separate record of violations of migrant workers' rights, told the STA that the violations of the act on the employment, self-employment and work of foreigners have been decreasing.
While 229 cases of violations were recorded in 2008, last year there were only 29, mostly in the construction sector.
Since last year, the inspectorate has also been monitoring the implementation of the transnational provision of services act, which was violated in 20 cases.
Last year, the inspectorate also recorded 21 violations of the employment relationships act, which enables fixed-term employment contracts to foreigners. In 73 cases, the rights of workers posted abroad by Slovenian employers were violated, while no violations were found of the article guaranteeing rights to workers temporarily posted to Slovenia.
In 2018, the minimal accommodation standards for foreign workers provided by employers were violated in two cases.
However, the NGO Workers' Counselling Office reports of much more violations. It claims a number of basic rights of migrant workers are being violated. Most concern non-payment of wages, social security contributions, sick leave compensation and overtime work.
Employers are also violating workers' rights when determining their working hours and forcing them into a type of employment contract termination that negatively affects the worker.
The NGO also dealt with cases where workers were checked out of social insurance retroactively and where work-related injuries or physical violence were not reported.
The NGO too receives most grievances from construction workers, but also from lorry drivers and cleaners.
Goran Lukič of the Workers' Counselling Office said the most problematic were the work permits obtained by employers for citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina (and soon also for Serbian citizens) based on a bilateral agreement, under which the worker must work for the company which paid for the permit for one year.
If they want to hold on to their work permit, the workers must stay with the company and are "often caught in forced labour," Lukič told the STA.