Serbia: Creating opportunities for people with disabilities

Jelena Petrovic once faced steep obstacles in finding a job. Because of a hearing impairment, she had to endure the prejudice of prospective employers against hiring someone with a disability.

Jelena is one of 800,000 people in Serbia—10% of the population—who suffer from a disability. Due to stigma, limited social support systems, and other factors, this vulnerable group is among the most marginalized and often faces poverty and unemployment.

Highlights

  • In Serbia, over 70 percent of people with disabilities live in poverty and only 13 percent have access to employment.
  • Employers in Serbia now receive tax benefits for employing persons with disabilities.
  • In 2006, Serbia became the first country in South-East Europe to enact a law to preventing discrimination. Fewer than 50 countries in the world have a similar statute.

However, conditions are improving. In 2003, Serbia recognized for the first time that people with disabilities are a vulnerable group requiring extra assistance, and in 2010, an employment quota system was brought into effect. This system required employers to hire at least one person with disabilities for every 20-50 employees, and to hire another person with disabilities for every 50 additional employees. Almost 3,700 people with disabilities found employment, up from only 600 in 2009.

Much of the credit for advocating such forward-looking legislation belongs to organizations of people with disabilities. With UNDP’s assistance, these organizations have developed skills in research, monitoring, and advocacy.

UNDP also joined the UN Global Compact to teach private sector employers how to hire people with disabilities, comply with hiring quotas, and increase workplace accessibility by installing ramps for wheelchairs or software for people with visual impairments.

Efforts also exist to help people with disabilities with employment. In 2010, the Serbian Government set up the Centre for Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities to provide vocational training, business start-up grants, and work placements in public and private organizations.

Additionally, the UN-backed Youth Employment Fund operates in 50 municipalities, providing additional training, placement and business start-up options for people under the age of 30, including those with disabilities.

“There are 25 people with disabilities working in our company, most of who were employed through the Youth Employment Fund,” said Marko Cvetkovic, the supervisor of recruitment at Delta Sport, a sportswear company. “The key value that we want to instill in our current and future employees is that everyone has potential.”

The Youth Employment Fund also provided Jelena with training and placement services to start her new life. She now works as an administrative assistant, and her employer is training her in accounting.

“I’m really happy to be working,” she said with a smile. “Other employees have confidence in me. That is really motivating and inspiring.”

Read the full story in our publication "Empowering Lives, Building Resilience"