Interview with Mr. Arben Seferaj, General Director of State Labour and Social Issues Inspectorate, Albania.
In Albania, work accidents are among the top five causes of unnatural deaths. In 2019, there have been 131 accidents with 30 fatalities and 90 people injured; 10 people died in the construction industry, 4 in mining accidents. The high numbers point to a worsening trend over the past years. We asked Arben Seferaj, General Director of the State Labour Inspectorate about their new data platform, upgraded with ILO assistance last year. The platform can be instrumental in improving work safety in the country.
In January 2019, Albania introduced a transparency platform that provides information and statistics on the work of the Labour Inspectorates. Could you explain how the platform works and who the users are?
The Transparency Platform was born out of a need to strengthen the role of labor inspectors, to set standards and to ensure the transparency of the labor inspection process. The platform contains all the provisions of the Albanian labor legislation and detailed information on the inspections carried out by the labor inspectors. Every single visit, every case of abuse and the respective sanction is registered in the system. The employers, workers and inspectors can all have access to the information and get to know the rules and sanctions for violations.
Having a complete database of inspected entities, as well as breaches identified in different sectors, we are capable of getting comprehensive statistics and analysis on different areas and sectors. The platform serves as a guide for labour inspectors for their more accurate and fair decision-making, and advances their professional growth. It is also a useful tool in the hands of the employers, enabling them to find answers for their questions and to improve work safety precautions if necessary. They can check and self-correct against relevant laws and regulations with the help of the platform.
How does the platform change the way Labour Inspectorates operated in the past? What were the most common problems?
There have been cases when the inspection process was contested by the visited companies. For the same violation, under the same conditions, labor inspectors are supposed to apply the same rules and impose the same fines, ensuring equal treatment of all employers. But this was not happening. The same company did not get the same enforcement measures for the same violation in all its locations. The law allows a broad range of penalties: it can vary from 0 to 50 times of the minimum wage. Therefore, it was necessary to define a methodology to standardize the implementation of the law at all levels across the structure. Setting and enforcing standards at work enables us to upgrade the performance of the labor inspectors, and to ensure transparency of the inspection process. This makes the “Transparency Platform” an effective instrument to combat corruption in our sector.
What are the results so far and what do you expect in the long term?
At the moment, the platform contains 26,000 registered inspections with all the details of the visit, findings, evidences and decisions for every case. Out of this number, 6,000 are re-inspections. We found that about 3000 legal provisions have never been implemented by the inspectors. Through the platform, labour inspectors have access to all the necessary information that can orientate them, leading to more accurate and consistent decisions and sanctions. The Central Commission of Appeal of Final Rules of labor inspectors confirmed that out of 93 sanctions imposed by labor inspectors in 2019, only 21 have been appealed (22.5%). It indicates an improvement in the quality and transparency of the inspections.
We found that since the introduction of the platform, the mind-set and the inspection approach of the labour inspectors have changed with a better focus on adjusting the situation, addressing the irregularities and violations observed. Before, a punitive approach was more common practice, levying direct fines on the company. In 2019, out of 10,042 visits to companies, in 28% of them an administrative measure has been applied (fine, suspension or precaution). We also see that the number of fines decreased to 4% of administrative measures, while the values of the applied fines are bigger, and suspension as a measure is applied more often (in 52% of administrative measures).
Additionally, there have been 630 tests conducted voluntarily by the companies to acquaint themselves with the laws that apply to their business. We are working hard to increase the number of employers who use the platform, as it affects the quality of inspection and consequently the contribution of labor inspection to better and safer working conditions.
What was the role of ILO in setting up the platform?
The Labor Inspectorate in Albania has been cooperating with the ILO over the past years. The ILO assistance in the framework of the EU-funded Economic and Social Affairs Platform enabled us to upgrade the Transparency Platform in order to produce more comprehensive reports and to make it accessible for users. The immediate success it had makes us optimistic and we intend to develop it further. For instance, we plan to produce statistical reports with data from inspections. Eventually, with this data, we will be better positioned to design development strategies for our future work.
The interview of Mr. Seferaj posted on the ILO website.