The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was guest in "Beogradska Hronika" program on RTS.
Were there more or fewer complaints from citizens during the pandemic? What did the employed most often complain about to the Protector of Citizens? My guest will give us answers to all these questions. Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, guest of Hronika. Good afternoon and welcome. What did you tell me? You told me all these topics which I had invited you to talk about were not interesting at all, now we’re just talking.
No, it’s just off-topic.
Why do you think that?
Because, you first said it had been a pandemic, and the pandemic is still underway. This raises a new round of topics and most importantly the topics we addressed as priorities at the start of the pandemic aren’t the same as they are now.
How are they different?
Life changes topics. The difference is that back then, the citizens weren’t familiar with this, that absolutely no one had a realistic attitude because few people knew much about this disease. And then, it naturally incited certain behavior.
And they were approaching you, right?
They contacted us so much that the number of contacts increased dozens of times compared to the previous year 2019. It started with how citizens who found themselves outside the country could enter the country and be enabled to overcome all the obstacles they had, then the state of emergency itself, the situation in the state of emergency which brought many into a very difficult situation. I will only name those people who live alone, who benefit of custodial care and assistance, and who, due to the state of emergency, couldn’t have been looked after by relatives or those who do it as a job.
And we overcame all that, it's been a year.
Yes, we did.
Let's go from the end now. What are they most often complaining about now?
They are now complaining about common problems, all of which have a dose of Covid-19 impact on either individual conditions or the collective conditions of particular social groups. This is what marked the inception, and it’ll continue and will last as long as the pandemic lasts, that is, it’ll last until the situation in our society and in the entire world, I assume, becomes closest to what is figuratively called normal or regular or regular routine before the virus. Now, when it will really come, I can't be a prophet and talk about it.
Of course. Which ministry, which institution did you file the latest request to and asked for a reply?
You mean to date?
Well, these are mostly the same questions that we ask everyone, so I can't tell you and single out any one, all ministries, most often the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Police.
And my questions head there as well. So, one of the latest reports that you issued is the request for authorities’ reply regarding the alleged replacement of babies in the "Narodni Front" Maternity Hospital. Did you get the answers, this was last week I would say?
That was last week. We always, what the law permits, set the shortest deadline for a reply, which is 15 days. As you yourself said, we have no replies yet. But that brings up another, much more important question, and that is how to act in such situations when parents have fear, be it justified or not-we’ll see in the investigation, that their child has been replaced in the maternity hospital. This is linked to the earlier story that was high-profile, and that is the problem of "missing babies".
Tell me, is that committee still operating?
It is, but then one question arises. Until this problem is resolved, there will be a certain amount of mistrust. We sent not only to the GAK Narodni Front, but also to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Police, which reacted to all this, all those who may have any contacts relevant to this case.
When do you expect the reply?
We expect in 7 days’ time and then we’ll see how they’ll reply to us and we will act accordingly. But again I open that question, what I suggested and in the case of "missing babies" there is one exact method that links parents to a child or a child to a parent, it's DNA analysis, one hundred percent certain. Formally, it is not one hundred percent, but in fact it is, and then it is easy to determine whether the child is of the parent who claims it. Let me say this. The Protector of Citizens is not the institution that implements this.
Clearly, clearly, but you are being approached by those who seek help. Another topic for us. We keep receiving complaints from citizens that are somehow related.
To labor relations, I assume.
That’s right. I’d target the Ministry of labor and labor relations. Many employers, especially retailers, took advantage of the Crisis Response Teams’ measures and practically forced their employees to use their annual leaves during the period when they were unable to work because they were closed. Do employers have the right to do that?
If they forced them, the term you used…
Wait, if someone tells you, we don’t work, everything is closed, we’re in some kind of lockdown and someone tells you - you now have to take annual leave.
You see, there is Article 116 of the Employment Act regulating the so called forced annual leave, lay off, for a maximum of 45 days in situations when the workload is reduced, i.e. when there is no work, to put it simply. This is mostly possible and is done in situations when it comes to, what is colloquially said state-owned institutions, of course with the Minister’s consent. Certainly, all of this during this period were recommendations that referred to state-owned institutions, but they were also instructive to private employers to act likewise so as not to harm employees.
Now, I use, and I thank you for the question, the opportunity to call on all those who feel that they were denied something, regardless of the number because we’ll act in the same way in each case, to approach the Protector of Citizens, and we’ll see whether it will be possible for us to act immediately or we’ll need to alert labor inspectorate.
Since many questions have been raised, I see that we’ll see each other again very soon. Let me ask you just one more thing? Were there any objections to the Crisis Response Team’s acting/failure to act? Has anyone complained to you regarding this topic?
Specifically regarding the Crisis Response Team as such, by name, no, not per se, but that’s the dissatisfaction that alternates from the fact that we were approached by those who were either unable due to the decisions of the Crisis Response Team to perform a certain job or to those who believe that these measures denied them certain rights. However, mind you, the Crisis Response Team doesn’t operate on the principle of some personal affinities and animosities.
They give recommendations.
That’s right. The extent to which it operates are in accordance with what can be called the realistic needs of citizens, it is what the Protector of Citizens investigates – a clear distinction between those who observe the measures and those who don’t. Non-observance of measures can only be done consciously, you cannot unconsciously disregard the measures if you are familiar with them, and the citizens are acquainted with the measures in the largest possible number, almost all of them. It simply should not be the case that those who act in accordance with the measures suffer because of the minority that misbehaves and who deliberately violates them for various reasons.
Okay, we put ellipsis here. We’re waiting for you to obtain the replies and then see you again in the studio to tell us the reply.