by Natasha Dokovska
- Macedonia -
"I have 15 years seniority over the human resources officer and the highest level of education. Eight years ago, I was the head of the department, but in the last two years I have been [systematically] demoted. Now I drink daily, take 10 pills, and have been referred to the neuropsychiatry patient clinic - all because of the pressure on me to perform in a new managerial structure at the organization where I work.” Declining to give her name for fear of retribution, 42-year-old A.S. says she doesn’t know what to do or where to complain.
In the current conditions of the continued global economic crisis, “mobbing” - or workplace bullying and harassment - is becoming a prevalent phenomenon in Macedonia’s public and private sectors. Fearing for their jobs, large numbers of employees are dealing with the stress of job insecurity by targeting others. Often this “mobbing” occurs vertically, from high-level employees to those who work under them. Ridiculing, ignoring, threats, and reducing earnings are all forms of mobbing. Evidence indicates that “mobbers” (those who mistreat their colleagues) are often not aware of what they do.
The first of its kind in Macedonia, the results of the SSM study found that of the 510 people surveyed, 41% said they have been the victims of mobbing, with some reporting having developed health problems as a result. Thirty percent said that they are pressured because of their political views, 14% because of their origin or ethnicity, and 5% reported being sexually and physically abused in the workplace. Honest and creative people, conscientious workers who report irregularities on the job, those seeking greater autonomy, those who are nearing retirement age and women all are potential candidates for mobbing.
The study found that the largest percentage of mobbing victims are women who have completed secondary and higher education (68%). These women are between the ages of 48-58 and generally hold higher levels of education or qualifications than their superiors. In addition, the vast majority of these women reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, or being threatened with physical and verbal violence. The SSM report has sparked further studies by local NGOs, which have found similar, if not worse results.
The reasons for this skewed statistic are clear. In a country with a high rate of unemployment, especially among the youth, older women are targeted as they near retirement age and pressured in the hopes they will leave, opening up room for younger employees. According to Macedonian legislation, they can then go to the Bureau of Employment and receive a small financial compensation for pension or salary. Perceived as more sensitive than their younger or male counterparts, women are the most likely to withdraw and succumb to these pressures.
Equally as troubling, the SSM study found that one in five victims of mobbing attempt suicide. Aleksandra Nakova from the NGO Open Youth Space explains that in Macedonia, as a country in transition, suicide is an all too common occurrence. She explains that when a member of the family becomes a victim of mobbing, especially one that is the sole financial provider in the home, he or she can became overly anxious and fearful with no legal recourse. Suicide notes show that these victims do not want to their children to suffer because of them.
Gordica Boskovski, president of the year-old Association Against Mobbing, agrees with Nakova on the effects transition is having on Macedonians. She says that from surveys she’s conducted, the most common form of pressure she’s found is political: 65% of respondents said they suffer from stress due to membership in a particular political party, hardly surprising for a country with deep political tension.
First to react in our country regarding mobbing was the SSM, which urged the adoption of a new Labor Law (2005) and a Law on Safety and Health (2007) to provide a legal means to regulate and sanction workplace issues. Although these laws were not fully adopted, the labor law did succeed in regulating general harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace and the right of an injured party to seek compensation in the amount of five average monthly salaries.
In reaction to the more frequent testimonies of mobbing, Macedonia’s DOM political party initiated the adoption of the Workplace Relations Act that would impose penalties on mobbers. However, the government, which is usually identified as the sector where much of the mobbing occurs, pushed back claiming that creating new legislation is a long and complicated procedure, and that in many other countries mobbing is addressed within the laws that deal with employment.
While government drags its feet and the SSM and NGOs continue to push for a law, last month in just 24 hours Macedonia lost four people to suicide as a result of mobbing.
Until a new law is enacted, employees should know how to deal with mobbing and where to seek care. Hopefully the educational manual recently created by the Friedrick Ebert Foundation and the Macedonian Mobbing Association will help advise workers on their options. Moreover, unions must maintain the key role of arbitrator between employee and employer.
Inda Kostova Savik, head of the education sector in the SSM, is frustrated but persistent. "Our position remains that the country must adopt a special law that would treat the issue of mobbing and workers to offer the best protection. We will work on it. Croatia and Serbia are already in the parliamentary procedure [to develop] specific mobbing laws and Macedonia should follow their example as soon as possible," she says.
About the Author
Natasha Dokovska has been a journalist for 23 years, covering social issues and human rights in Macedonia. She has been an editor for international policy, an advocate for human rights as an NGO activist and publisher, and has edited books related to peace journalism and other topics.
She is currently the editor for the first internet alternative radio in Macedonia and is also the Executive Director of JCWE, Journalists for Children and Women's Rights and Protection of the Environment in Macedonia.