INTERVIEW Konjević: We need new people to represent the economy

"We agreed with the Minister of Labor that the changes to the Labor Law should take into account all positive initiatives in order to adopt European standards in the part of conditions for achieving the representativeness of employers' associations and their periodic control"

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They want partnership cooperation with everyone: Raško Konjević, Photo: CUP
They want partnership cooperation with everyone: Raško Konjević, Photo: CUP
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

The Montenegrin Union of Employers (CUP) has representativeness and wants to work together with the Government on strengthening the social dialogue and on creating a better business environment, and with the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Naidom Nišić we agreed that all positive initiatives should be taken into account with the amendments to the Labor Law in order to adopt European standards in the part of conditions for achieving the representativeness of employers' associations and its periodic control.

This is what the general secretary of the CUP said in an interview with "Vijesta". Rasko Konjević.

"Employers want a serious organization that will represent them before the Government with the desire to strengthen partnership relations, so that the voice of the economy is clearly heard when creating economic policies. It's bad, and it happened recently that most businessmen are not familiar with the content of the collective agreement signed on their behalf, and they didn't even have the opportunity to announce and articulate their interests," said Konjević.

At the beginning of November, you were elected as the general secretary of the Montenegrin Association of Employers. Why did you accept this position? What do you expect as challenges in this job and what are your goals?

CUP is an organization that gathers businessmen who annually generate more than three billion in turnover and employ tens of thousands of workers. Our members are the biggest tax payers and they are all part of the "white" tax list. CUP has set correct and ambitious goals. Reform of social dialogue, recognition of trade unions as partners and an attempt to affirm a model in which employers and employees will be essential partners. There is no success for employers without educated, capable and dedicated employees who are satisfied. Also, employers want a serious organization that will represent them before the Government with the desire to strengthen partnership relations, so that the voice of the economy is clearly heard when creating economic policies. It is bad, and it happened recently that the majority of businessmen are not familiar with the content of the collective agreement signed on their behalf, and they did not even have the opportunity to communicate and articulate their interests. Together with the Government and others, we want to build a better business environment. We understand that these are processes. Many things have been done, but many things can be further improved. All this is a challenge, I am convinced that it can be achieved, and that was one of the motives for accepting the offer and devoting myself to these activities in the coming period. Today, from the "other side of the table" with solid experience, it seems to me that I have enough information to recognize how the processes can continue.

How do you plan to achieve representativeness as an employer organization? Do you already have the conditions? Do you expect cooperation with the state administration and a correct relationship during the changes to the rulebook that defines the way to achieve representativeness and the procedure for proving it?

CUP already meets the key conditions today. Our members create almost 60% of GDP. But we currently have legislation that needs to be changed, harmonized with European practice and experiences. The regulation you are talking about was adopted 18 years ago. It seems unbelievable, but it's true. Since then, the Labor Law has been amended three times, and no new by-laws have been passed for this segment. This is simply unacceptable and only shows the picture of how far behind EU standards we are in this area. What was done with trade unions in 2011 must be achieved. Adopt adequate regulations in line with European practice. CUP only wants fair and European standards, to affirm pluralism in the employers' association. We are not looking for any preferential positions. On the contrary. The strength, results and success of our members is our key advantage. There are no more monopolies, nor should there be. Competition between associations should be affirmed. Thus, tomorrow's cooperation will be better.

We expect principled cooperation with the new Government. Our goals simply coincide. Focus on issues of economy and better conditions for investment and development. We want to work together to strengthen social dialogue and create a better business environment. We spoke with the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Naidom Nišić and agreed that the planned amendments to the Labor Law should take into account all positive initiatives in order to adopt European standards in the part of conditions for achieving the representativeness of employers' associations and its periodic control. We are also looking forward to those changes. Freedom of association, affirmation of pluralism and periodic review of representativeness are key standards in this area in all European countries. Just look at how colleagues in Croatia arranged it legally and left it to employers to impose their ideas, work and quality through competition.

We now have two trade union headquarters, the Union of Free Trade Unions and the Federation of Trade Unions, which are representative and are members of the Social Council. Could there be two representative organizations of employers, how do you see the current and future relations with the Union of Employers - as partners or as conflicts between two competitors?

Surely there will be, not two maybe more. And that's good. Over time, competition will sharpen quality and lead to good cooperation and fight for common interests. If we look at things differently today, it does not mean that we cannot cooperate tomorrow. CUP wants partnership cooperation with the Government and trade unions and with all colleagues who share our values. These are the reform of the social dialogue according to the European model, a better business environment aimed at encouraging business and entrepreneurship, dedication to employees, without whom no business entity can succeed. People are everything today, especially in business.

According to Monstat data, earnings in the public sector are significantly higher than in most economic sectors. Does it put pressure on the economy to raise wages to keep workers? Are most of our private companies profitable and liquid enough to compete with the public sector in increasing earnings?

If we want to respect the key principles, we will agree that there is no increase in earnings without an increase in productivity. If wages in the public sector grow outside of realistic foundations and as part of populist politics, they certainly create a lot of pressure on the private sector, which does not have the luxury of behaving in this way. He can "share" as much as he earns in the market. It cannot borrow in the long term to increase salaries beyond economic reason, because such behavior will destroy both business and companies. Without the private sector, there are no key revenues in the budget, and then such a policy will only return to you as a boomerang in the medium term. On the other hand, if we create a better business environment in which the economy has space and incentives for development, it will have a beneficial effect on the position of employees and on public finances. The state must lead a cautious policy in this segment because the consequences can be severe and long-lasting.

For the next year, a new and significant increase in pensions is announced, as well as a further increase in wages in the public sector. Is our public sector becoming expensive and can the citizens and the private economy, which also fill the budget, finance it?

If wages and pensions grow by financing them with debt, then that is not a good way to go. It's going to get us into trouble. The public sector is certainly too extensive. If for years you have strategic documents that promote the reduction of public administration and its optimization and you behave in the opposite way, then you are definitely doing a bad thing. The economy today, after all the crises in the last three years, and the corona was one of the key ones, would not be able to withstand any negative tax correction. It is unlikely that public finances can withstand a process in which both wages and the number of employees in the public administration increase in the long term without major challenges. Because someone has to finance it on a realistic basis.

Do you expect problems in public finances if the public sector remains with these costs and the state loses the income it now has from the consumption of a large number of foreigners who are now temporarily staying in Montenegro?

The analyzes we had the chance to see recently are alarming. And our assessment is that it is a big risk. Today, many budget revenues are "distorted" due to both inflation and a large temporary influx of foreigners with greater purchasing power. That is why costs must be planned more conservatively, more cautiously, taking into account these circumstances. Because otherwise, in a negative scenario, public finances can be in a huge challenge. These are also the recommendations of international financial institutions.

Duško is my friend, but I don't want to go into politics

Why did you resign as the head of the SDP before the elections? Have you definitely left politics, and if so, why? Is it true that you are making a new party with Duško Marković?

In business, as in life, it is always a challenge to find the right balance. Fourteen years of active politics was enough. The right measure for this moment. And the positive events in my private life encouraged me to speed up that decision and dedicate myself more to my family and new private obligations.

Duško is my personal friend. Untethered from business or political arrangements. My commitment in the coming period is not related to politics.

Some provisions of the Labor Law have been superseded

Montenegro now has one of the lowest rates of taxes and contributions to wages in Europe, is that enough for the development of entrepreneurship? What are the biggest problems of entrepreneurs and what should be done to eliminate them?

It was certainly a significant step forward. It was favorably evaluated by the economy and produced certain results. He improved the situation, legalized part of the gray economy and partly influenced the increase in income. Of course, the overall business environment is a significantly more complex issue. Creating a better environment for business is not the job of just one government and one mandate period. That is why a continuous dialogue between the Government and employers, a partnership relationship, is needed. There is no successful government without satisfied employers, conditions for their business that will generate success in the economy. That is why CUP believes that many things can be improved in this relationship, as well as in cooperation with the unions. The Labor Law should continue to be improved, today some provisions have been overcome. The relationship between employers and employees should be established with more trust. Administration must be at the service of business, efficient. Correction of various procedures, clear and predictable environment. Constant policies without sudden changes, especially in the area of ​​tax policy. All this, like many other things, needs to be changed and long-term trust should be built. The state is still quite slow, insufficiently efficient. These days we had the opportunity to hear good ideas. I think that the Deputy Prime Minister Nik Đeljošaj affirmed the idea of ​​a credit guarantee fund. It could be a success story. I believe that with the economy in the finals, they will create a model that can provide a solid step forward.

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