Serbia's disabled get jobs boost from anti-prejudice actions

Feb 24, 2011

The number of disabled people in Serbia who secured jobs in 2010 was about four times higher than in 2009 due to a series of anti-discrimination actions by the Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

More than 2,500 disabled people found employment during the first nine months of 2010, compared with between 400 and 600 the previous year, following concerted Government and UNDP efforts since 2003 to cut poverty levels among the country’s vulnerable communities.

“Ensuring that vulnerable communities in Serbia are represented in the workforce is vital not only in creating an inclusive society but also to reducing poverty levels,” said William S. Infante, UNDP Resident Representative in Serbia.

“These results show the effectiveness of anti-discrimination actions and the resilience of Serbia’s disabled population in exercising their rights.”

Disabled people make up 10 percent, or 800,000, of Serbia’s total population. About half have only elementary or no formal education, and 70 percent live in poverty. Only 13 percent are currently in regular employment and a fraction are in leadership roles.

Serbia was the first southeast European country to adopt the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, creating protections for a range of vulnerable groups across areas including education, employment, and public services.

Drafted with advice from UNDP and enacted in 2009, the law opened the way for a national employment quota that levies fines on companies failing to hire a required minimum of disabled workers. More than 3,600 people, including 1,125 women, have been employed under this system.

In addition, Serbia’s Ministry of Economy and Regional Development, the National Employment Service, and the UN Global Compact, took steps to encourage employers to open workplace access for all employees, regardless of their level of mobility.

UNDP also gave direct support to disabled people through vocational training - including workshops and work placements - and grants for business start-up costs. This led to employment of more than 1,000 disabled people nationwide.


Danijela Jovanovic (41) - “I was born without both hands and feet and with facial deformity. In my early childhood I was moved from one foster family to another. At the beginning my life it was not easy.

In 2004, UNDP implemented a project that supports independent living for people with intellectual difficulties. They were looking for volunteers and I applied without hesitation. Now I live with my friends and we share housework and spend time reading or watching television. The project team found jobs for us, and we now receive salaries and live dignified lives. Now I use public transportation, work full time, and at the weekend do as I like. I would like to pass my driving test soon.

Since sport helped me to overcome many difficult situations it is still my biggest love. In the meantime I discovered climbing which became my new passion. In 2008 I became the first disabled woman to successfully climb Mt. Elbrus. The message to all my friends in institutions is that they need to be persistent, never give up and their wishes will come true no matter how distant and unrealistic they might seem.”

Jelena Petrovic (33) - with permanent hearing impairment has faced many obstacles and prejudices while seeking work, but she never lost courage and perseverance.

“I’m really happy to be working at Kenzai Group*. Other employees have confidence in me, that is really motivating and inspiring.”  Jelena is currently trained as an administrative technician, and now her employers are training her in more complex fields, such as finance.

*KENZAI GROUP is a trader and exporter of floor coverings at wholesale and retail levels. The company has employment policies as one of the Belgrade-based companies that meets the legal quota for employment of persons with disabilities.

Persons with Disabilities in Serbia - Overview of data and statistics

Number of PWDs:    


  • 346,899 persons receive disability pension (Superannuation and Disability Insurance Fund)
  • 25,000 persons use assistance and care allowances (Ministry of Labour and Social Policy)
  • 90 percent depend on social transfers (Oxfam and Centre for Independent Living)


  • Over 23,000 registered with National Employment Service.
  • Only 13 percent are currently in work (World Bank, PRSP)

Affirmative action:    

  • Employers are given tax benefits for employing people with disabilities
  • Law on Employment and Professional Rehabilitation (2009) creates employment quotas.

Poverty rate:    

  • 70 percent compared with 11 percent among the general population  (Strategy for Improvement of the Position of Persons with Disabilities)
  • Persons who are slightly above poverty line are at risk due to lack of entitlement to cash benefits


  • 51 percent have no formal education or only elementary education (Oxfam and Centre for Independent Living)
  • 85 percent of children with special needs remain outside of the education system entirely, never having attended school (UNICEF 2001)
  • 1 percent of entire elementary school-aged population attends special schools
  • Information on students with disabilities enrolled in mainstream classes is not collected


  • 11 percent of children aged 2 to 9 years have at least one reported disability (UNICEF 2006)

Social integration:    

  • 80 percent of disabled people require care or assistance (Oxfam and Centre for Independent Living)
  • 52 percent of disabled people do not participate in community life (Oxfam and Centre for Independent Living)

Government funding:        

  • National budget funds 90 percent of total social welfare expenditures, while remaining 10 percent are financed from municipal budgets


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