Many families in Croatia have a member who has worked or currently works abroad. Numerous men and women have been making that choice for decades for various reasons, such as a better salary and an opportunity for professional development. Among the more popular countries were Germany Austria and Ireland. At the same time the number of foreign workers in Croatia was extremely low.
Within a short period of time significant shifts in the labour market took place, such as a shortage of labour force in Croatia. Thus, the need for foreign workers arose. Instead of the quota system, a labour market test was introduced, simplifying the application procedure for the issuance of work permit to foreign workers. Therefore, it is not surprising that the their numbers in Croatia are rising, mostly of the workers from the neighbouring countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, but also from the more distant ones – Nepal, India, the Philippines, Bangladesh and others.
According to data from the Ministry of Interior, in 2022 a total of 124,121 residence and work permits were issued to third-country foreign workers. According to the latest information from the Ministry of the Interior reported by the media, this number is expected to be much higher this year. The most common occupations for which the residence and the work permits were issued in 2022 were: mason (7,895), waiter (6,840), carpenter (5,965), structural worker (5,602), chef (4,971), assistant chef (4,128), locksmith (3,107), reinforcer (3,031), plasterer (2,768) and electrician (2,189).
Unfortunately, same as Croatian citizens, foreign workers face human rights violations, and are exposed to additional risks because they do not know their rights nor the Croatian language. This is evident both in the data by the State Inspectorate, as well as complaints that foreign workers are addressing us with.
To help them obtain the information about their rights, we have prepared an overview of the most common problems they address us with as well as general legal information about what they can do to protect themselves. This information is available in English here, but also in German, French, Ukrainian, Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Nepali, Bengali, Hindi and Filipino.
Complaints submitted by foreign workers to the Ombudswoman
The number of complaints submitted by foreign workers to our institution is on the rise. They most commonly cite:
- that they were working without a work permit
- that they worked overtime in several restaurants owned by the same employer
- that the employer had not paid out their salary or overtime hours
- that they were denied the right to a weekly break
- that the employer had not provided them with a payroll statement, etc.
We were mostly addressed by workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, but also from those coming from Ukraine, the Philippines, Syria, Egypt.
General legal information on how to protect yourself from such violations is available here.
At the same time, the media have been highlighting the examples of inhumane housing conditions suffered by the foreign workers, but have also been reporting about the announcements that the Aliens Act will soon be amended so as to regulate this issue, which is a necessity.
Infringements of the rights established by the State Inspectorate
In 2022, the State Inspectorate established reasonable suspicion that 526 third-country nationals had been working without a residence and work permit, in violation of the Aliens Act. This number represents a 50% increase in comparison with the previous year.
In addition, more than half of these workers’ employers (81 out of 137) chose to pay high fines, 30 thousand kuna for each foreign worker who worked illegally, so that they could continue to work after the inspectors temporarily prohibited them from performing their activities. These data indicate the employers’ extremely strong need for labour, which, nonetheless, can never justify violations of the workers’ rights.
How to strengthen the protection of the rights of foreign workers?
The complaints we receive show that foreign workers do not have enough information about their rights and who they can turn to, but, unfortunately, also that they are often afraid to report violations. The lack of knowledge of the Croatian language and the lack of the support from family and friends that they would have in their home countries additionally complicates the situation.
Unfortunately, there are no public policies aimed at the social integration of foreign workers and no public authority has been designated to coordinate these activities. Croatian language courses are lacking, as well as the provision of the information on the available avenues for rights protection, both those work-related as well as others. Many of the foreign workers are often noticeably different and are more likely to be exposed to prejudice and discrimination. We warned about the absence of integration plans and measures in our 2022 annual report. During 2023, significant changes were announced, i.e. the development of integration measures and the strengthening of the protection of the labour rights, which we will monitor and contribute to their effectiveness through public debate.
In our 2022 annual report, we also made recommendations that need to be implemented in order for foreign workers to be more informed about their rights and protected more strongly.
We have issued a recommendation to the Office for Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities to inform foreign workers via its website about their rights in different rights protection systems, as well as through brochures, leaflets and the like. This would help foreign workers to recognize their rights and their violations, as well as to find out how and to whom to report them and what to expect following the report. Having been provided with this information, it will be easier for them to decide to report the problem, which can also help in prevention because if there are no reactions to law breaches, they will continue to occur and, possibly, to spread.
Additionally, we issued a recommendation to the State Inspectorate to closely monitor the legality of employment and work, as well as the conditions under which third-country nationals work. This would be a strong message that the exploitation of workers is illegal and that illegal work will not go unpunished.
You can find out more about this topic in the 2022 Ombudswoman’s annual report for, in the chapter “Right to Work” (under the section “Working Relations in the Private Sector and the Crafts”) and the chapter “Discrimination Based on Racial and Ethnic Origin” ( under the section “Migrants”).
You can find general legal information on how to protect yourself against workplace violations here.
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