Factory workers of Serbian socks supplier Valy triumph over unauthorised overtime practices

98 trade union members received the overtime payment from Serbian socks supplier Valy that was withheld over the preceding 2.5 years.

Valy d.o.o. is a factory that produces socks in the Serbian city of Valjevo, whose buyers have included Calzedonia and Primark. Between 2018 and 2021, Valy d.o.o. factory management made schedule changes that conflicted with national labour laws. Workers discovered the changes were illegitimate shortly after a new factory trade union, Sloga, was established in 2021. In addition, workers also learned they were not receiving adequate pay for the overtime hours they had been working. This was confirmed by the Serbian Labour Inspectorate in November 2021, which advised workers to start court procedures to claim their outstanding payments. The workers turned to the Serbian Center for Politics of Emancipation (CPE), a member of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) network, with an appeal for help.

The network started work on the case in the spring of 2022, with members of the CCC network appealing to the factory to directly compensate the workers rather than making them endure lengthy and expensive court procedures. The buyers were also informed, and funds were raised to allow the first workers to file court cases.

The factory's first response was to launch an all-out attack on the leader of the workers' union that brought the issue to light in the first place: Željko Veselinović, president of Sloga, had previously spoken out against labour practices at Valy d.o.o. including mass layoffs in late 2021. On 29 June 2022, Valy d.o.o. filed a personal legal case against Veselinović, demanding that he be imprisoned on the grounds of “reputation damage” to the company. CCC members were appalled by this attempt to intimidate trade union representatives and urged the factory and its Italian parent company, Golden Lady, to drop these charges. Fortunately, the factory gave in on this point and dropped their case. They also suggested they were willing to negotiate with the trade union.

Initially, negotiations were unproductive. Despite the court's initial ruling favouring the worker, the factory offered only a partial payment of the owed amount, claiming that the workers should cover the factory's legal expenses associated with the cases they filed. Of course, the trade union rejected this proposal and instead continued supporting the legal battles their members fought in court. This has resulted in 98 trade union members receiving the overtime payment that the factory had withheld over the preceding 2.5 years.

The support of the CCC global network members for Sloga's fight has been continuous. For now, CPE is content with this achievement. Still, they remain in contact with Valy d.o.o. workers to monitor the situation at their workplace, including concerning recognition of the trade union.

published 2024-03-07