The Republic of North Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy. A popularly elected president is head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The unicameral parliament exercises legislative authority. Parliamentary elections were last held in 2016 and presidential elections during the year. In its final report on the parliamentary elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) observed the elections were transparent, well administered, and orderly but took place “in an environment characterized by a lack of public trust in institutions and the political establishment” and failed to meet some important OSCE commitments for a democratic electoral process. The OSCE/ODIHR’s final report on the 2019 presidential elections noted the environment during the campaign was calm and peaceful and fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression were respected.
The national police maintain internal security, including migration and border enforcement, and report to the Ministry of the Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: high-level corruption and violence against LGBTI individuals.
The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. The ombudsman believed police impunity continued to be a problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. The government made progress in respecting media freedom and freedom of expression, but problems remained, including weak media independence, and violence toward and intimidation of journalists.
The May 29 EC report on the country noted the “overall situation and political climate for media continued to improve.” The report cited increased government efforts to support media through changes to legislation and financial subsidies for print media. The report also highlighted that professional organizations acknowledged the open dialogue and increased transparency of institutions.
Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2019 report stated that “while the media and civil society are active, journalists and activists face pressure and intimidation.” The report noted the media landscape was “deeply polarized along political lines, and private media outlets were often tied to political or business interests that influenced their content. Some critical and independent outlets operated and were found mainly online.”
As of September the government had not taken measures to address a July 2018 open letter from media stakeholders expressing concern the legal changes to the electoral code, introduced the same month, would permit taxpayer money to be used for political campaigning in commercial media.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites national, religious, or ethnic hatred and provides penalties for violations. Individuals may criticize the government publicly or privately.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: While outlets and reporting continued to be largely divided along political lines, the number of independent media voices actively expressing a variety of views without overt restriction continued to increase. Laws that restrict speech inciting national, religious, or ethnic hatred also cover print and broadcast media, publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.
A National Network against Hate Speech in Media was launched in January, led by the Media Ethics Council and supported by the OSCE. The network is comprised of 17 entities, including media and journalist associations, civil society, government, and other relevant stakeholders. In February an awareness campaign was launched under the motto, “Respect, Do Not Hate.” The government accepted these organizations and did not limit or restrict their activities.
In December 2018 and in February, the government amended its Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services (AAVMS). The May EC report noted implementing the law would require “strong political commitment to guarantee professionalism, respect for the principles of transparency, merit-based appointments and equitable representation.” OSCE representative on freedom of the media Harlem Desir welcomed the adoption of the amended law, saying it “is now in general accordance with European and international standards on audiovisual media.”
Government advertising on commercial channels is banned. The May EC report noted concerns the legal changes that permitted public funding of the September 2018 referendum campaign with commercial ad buys risked politicization of editorial policies.
The EC report also noted “further self-regulation efforts are required to improve professional standards and the quality of journalism.” The Media Ethics Council reported that as of August, 78 percent of complaints received were for unethical reports or fake news in online portals.
The Skopje Criminal Court issued a reprimand May 5 against 1TV for violating Electoral Code ad campaign regulations during the first round of presidential elections in April by continuing with political advertising beyond the legal deadline. On July 12, the Skopje Appeals Court upheld the first-instance verdict reprimanding 1TV for the violation.
Violence and Harassment: There were several cases of alleged threats and harassment against journalists during the year.
The head of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, Mladen Chadikovski, told the Global Conference for Media Freedom on July 10-11 in London that impunity for cases of attacks on journalists remained a major problem and impeded freedom of expression. According to the Association of Journalists, the Ministry of Interior completed all 12 pending investigations of attacks on journalists since 2017, but no further action was taken except in one case. On May 17, Skopje’s Basic Court sentenced VMRO-DPMNE member Toni Mihajlovski to three-months’ probation for his June 2017 threats against journalist Branko Trickovski. The EC report noted the country should “continue paying attention to the swift and effective follow-up by law enforcement and judicial authorities of all instances of physical and verbal attacks against journalists.”
As of August 31, no progress was reported regarding the Basic Prosecution Office investigation into former head of the AJM Naser Selmani’s March 2018 complaint he received threats against his and his family’s lives from an individual affiliated with the Democratic Union for Integration party.
On April 16, journalists reporting on poor infrastructure in the village of Aracinovo said they received threats and verbal attacks from individuals reportedly linked to Mayor Milikije Halimi. The journalists alleged individuals forcibly escorted them to the municipality building after they refused to delete their recorded interviews. In a press release April 18, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir condemned the intimidation, calling it a “blatant attack on freedom of the media.” Additionally, the Association of Journalists and the Audiovisual Media Services Agency condemned the attack. Police did not open an investigation because, according to them, the journalists did not officially report the case to police. The prosecution also did not open an investigation.
On June 4, the AJM and the Media Ethics Council (CMEM) strongly condemned the “explicit hate speech” against ethnic Albanians during the June 3-4 celebration in Skopje of Handball Club Vardar’s European Cup victory. AJM and CMEM expressed concern media failed to condemn the hate speech calling for violence and intolerance. The Helsinki Committee, NGO CIVIL, and ethnic Albanian political parties condemned the inflammatory speech, calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were some reports the government pressured journalists into self-censorship. In its May 29 report on the country, the EC noted, “There was no progress on improving the labor and social rights of journalists whose working conditions are very poor. Consequently, journalists still practice self-censorship. Lengthy negotiations led by the independent union of journalists and media workers did not result in any collective union agreement with any media outlet.”
Libel/Slander Laws: Persons found guilty of defamation, libel, and slander were subject to fines according to a schedule based on nonmaterial damage. The EC noted “preliminary steps have been taken to reduce fines for defamation to a symbolic amount which is expected to improve the sense of balance between freedom of expression and protection of reputation.”
Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani of DUI announced January 29 his party would file slander charges against journalists and media for alleging some DUI officials had abused state pension funds. AJM reacted January 30, urging politicians to refrain from filing slander charges against journalists. On February 7, EC spokesperson Maja Kocijancic noted “threats of legal consequences for media for their reporting,” by political actors, reiterating the EC 2018 recommendation the country should demonstrate “zero tolerance for physical and verbal harassment, and threats against journalists.”
Government General Secretary Dragi Rashkovski announced July 2 slander charges against journalists and media portals for spreading fake news by alleging that he had been illegally involved in a bid for the purchase of an air navigation system. The AJM criticized Rashkovski’s “direct threats” against journalists as “pressure that may result in ‘self-censorship’.”
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association and the government generally respected these rights.
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 law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
A “state of crisis” has been in force for border areas adjacent to Greece and Serbia since 2015. It has been extended by the government every six months, including through year’s end. The state of crisis allows government authorities to regulate the entry and transit of migrants. Since the closure of the “Western Balkans Route” in 2016, migrants apprehended in these areas were regularly placed in contained temporary transit centers, near the border, and pushed back to the prior transit country within days. No freedom of movement was ensured for migrants while in the transit centers or the reception center for smuggled foreigners, nor was a formal removal or readmission procedure established.
In-Country Movement: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that approximately 25,000 persons transited the country from January 1 to August 31, but neither UNHCR nor the International Organization for Migration (IOM) registered any hate crimes against them. UNHCR did not note any in-country movement restrictions for internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, or stateless persons.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Authorities undertook significant measures to combat and detect cases of migrant smuggling. During the year the government established a task force comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Interior and prosecutors from the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Corruption. The May EC report noted the problem of smuggling needed to be continuously addressed, as the country continued to be under severe pressure due to its geographic location.
The 2018 Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Annual Report stated, “The provision limiting the freedom of movement of asylum seekers was retained. Namely, Article 63 prescribes that freedom of movement shall be restricted in extraordinary circumstances, in order to determine the identity and citizenship, and establish the facts and circumstances of the asylum requests, particularly if a risk for escape has been determined, in order to protect the order and national security or when a foreigner is retained for the purposes of initiating a procedure for his return or removal.”
The IOM stressed the movement of migrants through the Western Balkans route was facilitated by smuggling networks, which exposed the migrants to significant risks of abuse and exploitative practices, including trafficking in human beings.
A multisector system and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were in place to ensure protection of the victims of gender-based violence. UNHCR considered the system needed strengthening and a systemic application of SOPs, especially regarding case identification.
Refoulement: UNHCR assessed access to asylum practices had consistently improved since 2016, and that previous concerns regarding the arbitrary practice of denying access to asylum had been addressed. During the year there were no instances of forceful returns of asylum seekers or refugees to unsafe countries recorded, or inappropriate pressure by any countries to return them to their country of origin.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system to provide protection to refugees. UNHCR reported, however, that the mechanism for adjudicating refugee status failed to provide basic procedural guarantees and proper determinations as prescribed in the law. It reported that 252 migrants applied for asylum in the first eight months of the year. No person was granted refugee status or a subsidiary form of protection.
In April 2018 parliament adopted a new Law on International and Temporary Protection. The Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) stated the new law addressed some of the shortcomings of the old law pertaining to the right to family reunification and access to asylum, but it unduly limited asylum seekers’ freedom of movement. The IOM expressed similar concerns regarding the new law. On September 14, the Constitutional Court dismissed MYLA’s May 2018 petition challenging articles 63 and 65 of the law.
The government issued identity documents to recognized refugees and persons under subsidiary protection, but authorities frequently delayed or failed to issue identification documents to new asylum seekers.
Migrant populations detained in the Transit Center for Foreigners were impeded from accessing asylum. An asylum application by a person held in the Reception Center for Foreigners (a closed-type facility in Gazi Baba) would only be possible after the person gave a statement before the court, in criminal proceedings, against their smugglers. During the year approximately 50 percent of all asylum requests registered in the country were processed through the Reception Center for Foreigners.
During the year the Administrative and the Higher Administrative Courts continued to avoid ruling on the merit of asylum applications, despite having the requisite authority, according to MYLA. They routinely returned the cases to the Ministry of Interior for further review.
Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, authorities detained some individuals intercepted while being smuggled. The grounds for detention decisions are arbitrary. As a rule, persons are supposed to be detained until their identity can be established. They were routinely detained after identification, however, to prevent them from escaping the country prior to providing testimony in court against smugglers. In addition, the majority of asylum seekers who were previously detained reported they were not issued detention decisions, or if they did receive such decisions it was in a language they could not understand, impeding them from exercising their right to judicial review.
MYLA also noted the practice of detaining illegal migrants and asylum seekers to secure their testimony in criminal proceedings continued during the year. Detention orders did not specify the legal grounds for detention, and there was no effective judicial review of the detention decisions. According to MYLA, as of August 28, at least 126 persons were detained as illegal migrants.
The average detention period during the year was 15 days, with the longest period being 45 days and the shortest period one day.
Some improvement was noted compared to previous years, as women, children, or families were generally not detained; alternatives to detention were employed instead. A Safe House, run by an NGO, was rented for these individuals, with international donor funding, so they were not placed in prison or in detention facilities. The individuals were monitored, however, and needed to report to authorities on a weekly basis.
The 2018 Law on International and Temporary Protection introduced the possibility of detaining asylum seekers, referred to in the law as “limitation of freedom of movement.” Under this provision, three asylum seekers were detained in the Reception Center for Foreigners, a closed facility. The law stipulates the “use of limitation of freedom of movement” should be a last resort. The law does not provide for adequate alternatives to detention. Through September 24, unaccompanied children and three women were held in detention.
Employment: There are no restrictions on refugees’ ability to work, and the law allows asylum seekers whose asylum procedure is not completed within nine months to apply for a work permit.
The 2018 Law on International and Temporary Protection also provides the right to work for persons granted subsidiary protection, as well as for asylum seekers, whose asylum request is not completed within nine months. Recognized refugees and persons under subsidiary protection with work permits were able to access the active labor market. Nevertheless, asylum seekers faced restrictions because of conflicting laws. By law, a foreigner needs to have a unique identification number assigned in order to be issued a work permit. Although an asylum seeker has the legal right to apply for a work permit after nine months in procedure, s/he has no right to be assigned a unique identification number, which by the same law is issued once a positive decision is granted. Consequently, an asylum seeker is granted the right to work but is unable to exercise it, a serious gap considering some procedures last for two to three years, including instances of judicial review.
Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers, prior to a final decision on their asylum applications, had the right to basic health services, in accordance with the regulations on health insurance. The same applied to the right to education. To date, however, there were no cases of children coming from outside the region enrolled in state-run educational facilities. Upon recognition of status, persons with refugee status have the right to full health care provided under the same conditions as it is to citizens.
Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR none of the 394 individuals from the 1999 conflict in Kosovo who remained in the country returned to Kosovo during the year. No cases of resettlement were registered.
The law provides for naturalization of refugees residing in the country under preferred conditions, while persons under subsidiary protection may naturalize as any other foreigners do who stay legally in the country for a minimum of eight years. During the year one refugee and one person under subsidiary protection were naturalized.
Under the law the MLSP, in cooperation with the Interior Ministry and UNHCR, should facilitate the voluntary return of asylum seekers to their homes. There were no cases of assisted voluntary repatriation during the year.
UNHCR continued to assist rejected asylum seekers from Kosovo, whom the government allowed to stay in the country. The government issued them provisional identification documents to secure their access to services. The MLSP provided integrated, durable solutions with the support of UNHCR for approximately 274 refugees who had applied for integration into the country. The ministry provided social assistance, housing assistance, and access to education, health care, and the labor market.
Temporary Protection: The government could provide subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, but there were no such protections granted during the year.
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 conviction of corruption by officials. The government generally implemented the law, but there were reports officials engaged in corruption. NGOs stated the government’s dominant role in the economy created opportunities for corruption. The government was the country’s largest employer; some analysts estimated it employed as many as 180,000 persons, despite official statistics showing public sector employment of approximately 128,000 persons.
Corruption: In its May 29 report, the EC noted the country has “some level of preparation,” and “good progress has been made through further consolidating a track record of investigating, prosecuting and trying high-level corruption cases, and changes to the legislative framework.” The report specifically noted the February 8 appointment of the new State Commission for Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) was more transparent than before and highlighted steps taken by the commission to proactively fight corruption. The commission also acknowledged, however, prevalent corruption in many areas remained a concern.
As of August 26, the SCPC received 465 citizen and 12 whistleblower complaints, the majority dealing with misuse of public funds, failure to exercise due diligence, and other nonethical conduct. In addition, the commission received 81 conflict of interest complaints. The SCPC opened at its own initiative 21 cases involving allegations of corruption, and another 65 nepotism cases. The commission also published 68 decisions that resulted in public reprimands against public officials, the recommendation of disciplinary action against four public officials, and a proposal to dismiss another official.
On August 21, the Skopje Criminal Court issued a 30-day detention order for Chief Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva for “abuse of official position” in relation to the “Racketeering” case. Her detention followed the July 15 Skopje Criminal Court detention order against 1TV Manager Bojan Jovanovski (aka “Boki 13”) and businessman Zoran Milevski in the same case. The Prosecutors’ Council dismissed Janeva on September 15 upon parliament’s recommendation. The trial was scheduled to begin December 3.
On September 13, the chief public prosecutor assumed authority over the SPO cases and announced he would assign the cases to the appropriate prosecution offices based on their competencies.
On March 8, the Skopje Criminal Court convicted and sentenced former UBK director Saso Mijalkov to a three-year prison sentence in the SPO “Titanic 2” case, on charges of illegal gain resulting from unlawful influence trading to commit election fraud in connection with the 2013 local elections in Strumica. The court also sentenced Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) leader Menduh Thaci to three years in prison; former VMRO-DPMNE State Election Commission members Sasho Srcev, Aneta Stefanovska, and Vlatko Sajkovski to three years in prison each; and DPA member Bedredin Ibraimi to four years and six months in prison for misuse of official authority. Defense appeals were pending before the Skopje Appeals Court as of September 10.
Police arrested and brought to prison SPO “Trust” convict Sead Kocan on August 1 to serve his four-year-and-eight-months sentence for public procurement fraud. On March 11, the Skopje Appellate Court upheld convictions of Sead Kocan and Vasilije Avirovic in the case. The court also upheld an order to confiscate €17.3 million, ($19.03 million), the largest amount ever confiscated by courts in North Macedonia.
A Hungarian court denied on June 27 North Macedonia’s request to extradite former prime minister Gruevski, who fled to Hungary November 2018 after the court rejected his appeal and ordered him to report to prison to start serving a two-year sentence in the “Tank” case involving the fraudulent procurement of a 600,000-euro ($660,000) armored Mercedes Benz in 2012. Hungary granted him asylum. Additionally, the Ministry of Justice shared October 7 it had received notification from Hungarian authorities on August 5 that Hungary’s Supreme Court had denied North Macedonia’s request to extradite Gruevski in the case against the organizers of the April 27, 2017 parliament violence. Previously, on June 27, a Hungarian court denied Gruevski’s extradition in relation to the SPO “Tank” case. Also, November 13, Skopje Criminal Court dropped charges against Gruevski in the SPO “Trajectory” case due to that statute of limitations taking effect.
Financial Disclosure: The anticorruption law requires appointed and elected officials and their close family members to disclose their income and assets and provides penalties for noncompliance. The public may view disclosure declarations on the SCPC’s website. The commission routinely received and checked conflict of interest statements submitted by public officials. In a prominent case, the SCPC found a conflict of interest involving Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Kocho Angjushev and businesses in which he had an interest.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often willing to listen to these groups but were also sometimes unresponsive to their views. During the year a number of ministries established working groups that included members of civil society, and civil society representatives were invited to participate in parliamentary debates.
In 2016 tax authorities under the previous government opened inspections of 20 civil society organizations, and the Public Revenue Office targeted NGOs that had been critical of the VMRO-DPMNE-led government’s policies. In 2018 the interior minister informed representatives of the civil society organizations that the Ministry of Interior had requested the prosecutor to close the investigations for lack of evidence, which was done in April.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman worked to protect citizens from infringement of their rights by public institutions, reduce discrimination against minority communities and persons with disabilities, promote equitable representation in public life, and address children’s rights.
The May 22 Law on Prevention of Discrimination terminated the incumbent Commission for Prevention of Discrimination effective August 21. The appointment of the new commission remained pending at year’s end.
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 the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Trade unions are based on voluntary membership, and activities are financed by membership dues. Approximately 22 percent of employees are union members.
Union representatives, with the exception of a few branch unions, claimed they were generally not free from the influence of government officials, political parties, and employers.
The law requires federated unions to register with the MLSP and with the State Central Registry.
A court of general jurisdiction may terminate trade union activities at the request of the registrar or competent court when those activities are deemed to be “against the constitution and law.” There are no nationality restrictions on membership in trade unions, although foreign nationals must have a valid work permit and be employed by the company or government body listed on the permit. Although legally permitted, no unions operate in the free economic zones.
The government and employers did not always respect freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining. Unions maintained the law’s “exclusionary” provision, which allowed employers to terminate up to 2 percent of workers from collective bargaining negotiations during a strike. Collective bargaining is restricted to trade unions that represent at least 20 percent of the employees and employers’ associations that represent at least 10 percent of the employers at the level at which the agreement is concluded (company, sector, or country). Government enforcement resources and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations of the law were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were generally subject to lengthy delays.
The MLSP received three complaints in the period 2018-19 about violations of the right to union organization and freedom of association. The complaints were forwarded to the State Labor Inspectorate and are currently pending action.
The president of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (KSS), Blagoja Ralpovski, claimed he was fired from the State Cadaster Agency due to his union activities. He filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination, with court action pending at year’s end.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government largely enforced applicable laws. The law prescribes imprisonment, which applies to violations of forced labor laws or for the destruction or removal of identification documents, passports, or other travel documents. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. There were instances in which women and children were subjected to forced labor, such as peddling small items in restaurants and bars, and sexual exploitation. Some Romani children were subject to forced begging, often by relatives (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The government has established laws and regulations related to child labor, including prohibiting the worst forms of child labor. The government made efforts to enforce the law in the formal economy but did not do so effectively in the informal economy. Gaps exist in the country’s legal framework to protect children adequately from labor abuses, including the worst forms of child labor, and the minimum age for work. The minimum age for employment is 15. Children may begin work at 14 as apprentices or as participants in official vocational education programs, cultural, artistic, sports, and advertising events. The law prohibits employing minors under the age of 18 in work that is detrimental to their physical or psychological health, safety, or morality. It also prohibits minors from working at night or more than 40 hours per week.
The MLSP’s Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing laws regulating the employment of children. Police and the ministry, through centers for social work, shared responsibility for enforcing laws on child trafficking, including forced begging. Due to lack of enforcement, stringent penalties are insufficient to deter violations.
There were no reports of children under 18 unlawfully engaged in the formal economy. During inspections at some family-run businesses, the State Labor Inspectorate noted minor children assisting in the work, most commonly in family run handicrafts and retail businesses, as well as on farms.
Some children in the country engaged in forced begging, cleaning windshields; scavenging, or selling cigarettes or other small items in open markets, on the street, or in bars and restaurants at night. Although the necessary laws were in place, government efforts to eliminate forced begging by children were largely ineffective. Children involved in these activities were primarily Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian and most often worked for their parents or other family members. Despite enforcing legal remedies, such as temporary removal of parental rights, criminal charges, and revoking parental rights of repetitive offenders, officials were largely ineffective in preventing this continuous practice, and Romani children remained vulnerable to exploitation and forced labor.
The MLSP runs a call-center where child abuse can be reported, and most reports referred to cases of street begging. The ministry also funded two day centers that provided education, medical, and psychological services to children who were forced to beg on the street.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations generally prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, health status, political opinion, religion, age, national origin, language, or social status. The law does not specifically address discrimination based on HIV or other communicable disease status but does refer to the health status of employees. The government did not always enforce the laws effectively, and penalties were not always sufficient to deter violations. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination received a total of 136 complaints related to workplace discrimination, of which most referred to gender and age discrimination.
Despite government efforts and legal changes for mandatory inclusion in primary and high school education, Roma continued to live in segregated groups without proper health and social protection, mostly due to lack of registration documents. Data from the State Employment Office showed that due to low participation in the education system, particularly higher education, Roma generally had difficulties finding jobs in the formal economy. Women’s wages lagged behind those of men, and few women occupied management positions. The government made efforts to prevent discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace for persons with disabilities.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage, as of October 15, was below the poverty threshold for a family of four, but the average monthly wage was significantly higher. The State Statistical Office estimated that 22.9 percent of the population lived at or below the poverty line.
Although the government set occupational safety and health standards for employers, those standards were not enforced in the informal sector.
The total number of labor inspectors was considered adequate to investigate violations of labor law and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Inspections were not adequate, though, to ensure compliance, due, in part, to an inadequate regional distribution of inspectors.
The law establishes a 40-hour workweek with a minimum 24-hour rest period, paid vacation of 20 to 26 workdays, and sick leave benefits. Employees may not legally work more than an average of eight hours of overtime per week over a three-month period or 190 hours per year. According to the collective agreement for the private sector between employers and unions, employees in the private sector have a right to overtime pay at 135 percent of their regular rate. In addition, the law entitles employees who work more than 150 hours of overtime per year to a bonus of one month’s salary.
During the year the MLSP labor inspectorate filed complaints against several businesses for forcing employees to work long hours without the rest breaks required by law; nonpayment of salaries, benefits, and overtime; and cutting employees’ vacation. Violations in wage and overtime were most common in the textiles, construction, railroads, and retail sectors.
Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced. Many employers hired workers without complying with the law, and small retail businesses often required employees to work well beyond legal hourly limits. During the year the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health was not fully functional and played only an advisory role. While workers have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their future employment, employers did not always respect this right, reportedly due to the high unemployment rate.
According to data from the Macedonian Occupational Safety Association, there were 33 workplace fatalities in 2018 and 124 workplace injuries. Most of the casualties occurred in the category of Household Activities, which included farming and use of agriculture equipment, followed by the construction sector.