A lawyer at the Dystrophy Institute was subjected to mobbing and fired after speaking with journalists

Jovanka Gatarić, a lawyer at the Center for Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled Persons in Banja Luka, was dismissed as a technological surplus after, as she claims, nine months of mobbing from both the director Želimir Radinović and some colleagues.

By: Andrijana Pisarević; Photography: Vanja Stokić

She was dismissed on March 31 of this year, just three days after eTrafika journalists invited the current director to comment on her claims that she had been subjected to harassment for months, transferred to a fictional job that will soon be abolished, and threatened with dismissal.

Jovanka Gatarić, a lawyer at the Center for Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities in Banja Luka, was fired as a redundant employee, after, as she claims, enduring nine months of mobbing from both director Želimir Radinović and some colleagues.

The termination was handed to her on March 31 this year, just three days after eTrafika journalists invited the current director to comment on her claims that she had been subjected to harassment for months, that she had been transferred to a fictional job that would soon be abolished, and that she was facing termination.

Gataric claims that she was targeted during and after last year’s five-month strike, which our portal has reported on in detail several times. During the strike, the previous director, Željko Ubiparip from the Socialist Party, was dismissed and replaced by Želimir Radinović, also a member of this party. According to her, Radinović immediately began to target workers who did not support the strike and the previous director’s dismissal. He personally fired her from her position as head of sales and moved her to a “made-up job” where she was given nothing to do, and finally abolished it at the end of last month.

“The employment contract of Jovanka Gatarić, employed on a fixed-term contract as a professional rehabilitation clerk in the general legal sector, is terminated because, due to organisational changes, there is no longer a need for the work that the employee performed under the employment contract. The employer cannot provide her with other suitable work or training for other work, nor can she be assigned to work for another employer”, the decision states.

The employment contract, as stated in this document, is terminated on March 31, 2023, with a notice period of 30 days which starts running from the day of delivery. Upon expiration, the named employee ceases to have rights and obligations based on the employment relationship with the employer.

“According to the termination decision, the named employee stops working immediately, and the salary and all other rights are recognized as if she had worked until the expiration of the notice period”, the decision states, and she receives severance pay in the amount of 3,651 KM.

Gatarić claims that her dismissal was planned months earlier and that her colleagues had long told her about it because the director had a grudge against her for being part of the “management” of his party colleague Željko Ubiparip. Her problems began before Ubiparip’s dismissal when her disagreement with strike leader and unionist Miroslav Gnjatović went so far that she had to report harassment at work and call in an inspection. Everything came to a head with the arrival of the new director, with whom Gnjatović initially worked well, but who immediately transferred her from her job, refused meetings and collaboration, left her waiting for a schedule for a month, and finally fired her.

“I was fired on Friday, ten minutes before the end of working hours. Four months ago, when I was transferred, he created that job as if it was necessary for the functioning of the company, and now I am redundant because there has been no need for it for a long time. I was told not to come to work for 30 days and that I will be paid. I called a lawyer and I’m waiting to consult with him. I sued the company for workplace harassment and until that is resolved, they cannot do such things, but you see that he thinks he can. I had to sign it and ended up in the emergency room again. I feel bad knowing that I worked for that company for 17 years and then someone comes and starts harassing me after seven days”, says Gatarić for our portal.

Our interviewee says that the situation in the company is worse today than during Ubiparip’s time, because some were dissatisfied before, but now everyone is.

“I worked as the head of the economic-commercial sector and the strikers ‘called me out’ in the media because I was not with them against the previous management. I reported Miroslav Gnjatović, who started the strike, for harassment at work, because he constantly attacked and called me out. I endured so much terror in this company that my health visibly deteriorated. The new director, who was initially close to Gnjatović, immediately took all the work away from me and for months they gave me nothing to do. They even forbade people from communicating with me. Psychological torture became so much that I ended up on sick leave, and the director refused to sign my medical certificate, even withholding one of my salaries”, claims Gatarić and says she has all the findings confirming that all her health parameters have been compromised.

She tells the story of being on sick leave for three months, and upon returning to the Center in early October last year, she was faced with a “missing” job position, as confirmed by a written statement from another Center employee.

“They told me I had to wait for the director, then he would see what he would do. I spent the whole month waiting for the director on a client chair who did not want to receive me. He banned me from entering the accounting office and forbade colleagues from giving me any insight into the company’s operations. He appointed a colleague who worked in production to my position and changed the job classification regulation, removing a lawyer with two years of experience from my position, to put in an economist with no experience”, she claims, adding that she then became a specialist for professional rehabilitation and employment of people with disabilities, which has now been abolished as unnecessary.

She claims she is not the only dissatisfied employee at the Center. There is work to do, she doesn’t deny that, but due to the “pillaging” of workers, many were moved from production to the offices, and the workload has fallen on several disabled people who physically cannot handle it.

Miroslav Gnjatović says that the situation between him and Gatarićka is now in good order, but he was disappointed with the director, whom he says created chaos in the Center.

“Ask Jovanka, I guarantee that there is nothing bad between us now. She reported me because I published information against her about the situation that prevailed when the director was Ubiparip. We never had any conflict, nor were there any bad words. But I know that the director has been threatening her with dismissal for months”, says Gnjatović.

He adds that he is very disappointed in the new director and his methods. He says he also jeopardized his health at the Center and would like to leave the most.

“I really thought and supported him unreservedly that he would improve the situation in the Center, that everything would be legal, and that working conditions would improve. However, nothing came of it. It’s true that there’s more work now and the salaries aren’t delayed, although they’re mostly minimal wages. He was friendly and kind at the beginning, but in the end, we ended up in a situation where interpersonal relationships at the Center were the worst they’ve ever been. The police come up here and intervene because of conflicts and threats among people. They even threatened me”, says Gnjatović.

Miroslav Gnjatović

The story of Jovanka Gatarić and Miroslav Gnjatović has also been confirmed by former union leader Miroslav Marjanac, who says that the situation has reached boiling point and that the mobbing of Garatić is really terrible.

“The mobbing that is happening to Jovanka is terrible, and the situation at the Center is unbearable. Never worse. It’s so bad that there is a group of seven or eight people who even want to be declared redundant and leave here. Even people with disabilities. I was also on strike, but it is clear to me that nothing has been done since it ended, and that interpersonal relationships are the worst so far”, says Marjanac.

Intentionally or accidentally, Jovanka Gatarić was handed her dismissal only three days after eTrafika journalists called director Želimir Radinović on the phone regarding this case. Although he was courteous at first, our questions did not please him. Suggesting that we “deal with nonsense” instead of writing about the successes of the Center, in the end, he asked for questions, but also for the editor’s phone number to, as he said, “talk to her.”

Three days later, Jovanka Gatarić was fired, and after a new call to Radinović for a statement that we did not receive, he again suggested that we should “deal with nonsense” and internal affairs. In response to the questions we sent with a note to answer them as soon as possible, we received an email in which he avoided answering but requested that we explicitly refer to the Law on Free Access to Information.

“In the shortest possible time, I am answering with the question of whether you are implying that the attachment to your message should be considered a request for access to information in the sense of the Law on Free Access to Information, since you do not explicitly state it anywhere? But you leave enough meaningful material for this to be interpreted in a broader sense. For further dialogue, it is necessary to answer this question”, Radinović wrote, again avoiding answering our questions and adding that “in the future, he will not respond in the shortest time, but in an appropriate time.” Answers did not arrive even after 14 days.

However, in the first phone call, Radinović provided more information regarding Jovanka Gatarić. When asked if she was about to be fired, he said that these were “hearsay” and not true.

“In the seventh month [of the year], she [Jovanka Gatarić] used her old vacation days, which I did not approve. She was not sent on sick leave, the doctor did not send her and she did not have a medical certificate. As for harassment, I am the one who is more exposed to it. I really won’t deal with Mrs Jovanka’s nonsense. She called the inspectorate [labour inspectorate] seven times, and we didn’t get any fines. I am the head of a system of 52 people. Why don’t you ask me how we work and whether we have work? I will not talk about this topic anymore. Just because someone reported harassment, it doesn’t mean they were actually harassed; it needs to be proven”, said Radinović at the time, adding that Gatarić had filed a complaint for harassment before he arrived and then filed a lawsuit against the Center.

In response to our inquiry, the Inspectorate of the Republika Srpska (RS) confirmed that they had acted on multiple reports of workplace harassment, wage calculations, application of the Law on Strikes, and employment.

“When it comes to allegations of workplace harassment, it was determined through inspection that the employer did not carry out the procedure for protection against harassment within the legally prescribed deadline. As a result, the inspectorate issued an order to conduct the procedure, as the employer is obliged to initiate an investigation into the violation of work discipline if he becomes aware that workplace harassment has occurred, and to do so within 15 days of receiving the request”, stated the Inspectorate.

They said that the process for protection against workplace harassment is considered to be completed by concluding a written agreement between the parties involved.

“After the employer appointed a commission that conducted the procedure, the parties were unable to reach an agreement and it was suspended. The party was advised that they could seek further protection of their rights through the Agency for peaceful settlement of labour disputes or through a lawsuit before the competent court. On October 10, 2022, the aforementioned individual submitted a new report to this body regarding the work of the Center, in which it was stated that as an employee, they were denied access to the workplace and information necessary for performing their duties upon returning from temporary incapacity for work. An extraordinary inspection was carried out and no irregularities were found in the work”, the Inspectorate of RS said.

In the Ministry of Labor and Veterans’ Disability Protection, they say that they do not carry out inspection supervision of the legality of the work of the Center, nor do they have the jurisdiction to take individual measures, including individual requests for protection against harassment at work.

“This Ministry is aware of the initiated request for protection against harassment at work by the employer and has information that a decision to suspend the procedure at the employer’s request has been made based on it. We do not know whether the worker has sought to exercise their rights before the Agency for Peaceful Settlement of Labor Disputes of Republika Srpska or the competent court. This Ministry does not supervise the job classification document, nor assess the validity or appropriateness of individual solutions related to job positions, job descriptions, internal work organization, and the necessary number of employees”, they said for eTrafika in this ministry.

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