Two friends from Kumanovo, a 20-year-old Ajshe Alilovska and one-year-older Ajsena Elezi, have been looking for a job as shop attendants in boutiques and supermarkets, as waitresses and as general workers for a few years now, but to no avail. They explain that, despite the numerous employment measures and benefits that the state provides to the companies, they cannot find a job — as they put it — because of their ethnicity. They are surprised that discrimination against the employment of Roma still exists and stress that they have never been directly rejected on this ground. None of them has reported these acts of discrimination to the relevant institutions.

Alilovska completed secondary education in the Kumanovo Gymnasium a couple of years ago and she is currently working as an apprentice at the National Roma Centrum. She has learned about this measure from the employees of this organization. She has been an active job applicant at the Kumanovo Employment Bureau for two years now. She says that the apprenticeship in this organization provides her with new skills and knowledge that will help her find her way on the labor market in the future. She used to constantly look for a job as a boutique shop assistant, waitress, or a general worker.

“I think that they have rejected me because of my ethnicity. However, I consider myself to be a good and obedient worker who may, can and wants to advance and improve,” Alilovska says.

She has narrated what happened to her when she was looking for a job at a Kumanovo boutique. They told her that they did not need another worker, but, after a few days, they hired a Macedonian girl.

“This is when I thought that I had been declined because of my ethnicity,” Alilovska adds.

She looked for a job in other places, actually, whenever she saw a job advertisement.

“I would go and ask, but the only reply I would get was to leave my contact number, but I never heard from any of them again. Sometimes some of my Macedonian girlfriends have been employed instead,” young Ajshe says. However, she adds that she will not give up. She plans to upgrade her knowledge and complete a physiotherapist or cosmetician course or study law.

Her friend Ajsena Elezi has completed a nursing course at the “Nace Bugjoni” secondary school. She applies to every job advertisement for a shop assistant or a general worker she sees. She adds that she has experience in the nongovernmental sector and she has also participated in seminars. Apart from Kumanovo, she has also looked for a job in Skopje or wherever available.

“I have been declined everywhere and I believe that this has been because of my ethnicity,” Elezi says. She adds that the Employment Bureau should be a more open institution when it comes to young people.

“I have found out about all the vacancies through my friends, rather than through the Employment Bureau. I myself have heard about the free German course and I have applied for it. The Employment Bureau employee where I apply for a job has not informed me of the free language course,” Elezi adds.

She has not looked for a job in private practice, while she does not even think about applying for a job in public practice, such as the General Infirmary, because you need a party membership card to be employed there, and she does not have one. Elezi went to Germany for a while, where she was offered to work as a nurse in a nursing home.

“No one was bothered by my ethnicity back there. However, I had a problem in scheduling an appointment at the Macedonian Embassy in Germany, so I have missed the chance to start with this job in May this year, Now I am waiting for another term at our embassy and I do hope that things will turn out all right this time and that I will finally have a job in my field of work and a good salary,” Elezi says.

Both of these young girls seek from the Employment Bureau employees to be more transparent toward the unemployed, inform them on time about all the available measures and help them find a job.

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The Kumanovo Employment Bureau employees have informed that 438 Roma, of whom 128 are women, are active job applicants, while 179 are passive applicants, 93 of whom are women. Of the total number of unemployed Roma, there are two with a bachelor’s degree.

The Operational Employment Plan offers many opportunities for the companies, such as tax exemption and exemption from paying social contributions for certain categories of people, such as unemployed, primarily young, women and vulnerable categories. The young Roma are interested in taking advantage of these measures, just as the two girlfriends are. The first one is using the apprenticeship measure, while the other is using the measure of free language courses. The apprenticeship measure for the young aged up to 29 is ongoing and it will last until 1,000 young people are hired all over Macedonia. In Kumanovo, there have been 194 applications from young people and 145 applications from companies, while 103 young unemployed people have been hired so far. They receive 6,261 denars a month, personal income tax and work injury compensation insurance included.

Mira Trajkovska, Employment Bureau associate, says that the unemployed young people use this measure to acquire knowledge and skills and to receive firsthand experience.

“This measure is intended for young people with completed secondary education, although those with completed primarily education show interest, too, but they can unfortunately not be included in this project. This year, just like at the very start of the implementation of this measure, the young members of the Roma community have expressed interest. They are usually included in the Roma NGOs that work on a number of areas. This year three people have been hired by three nongovernmental organizations, which have to have at least one employee of this kind,” Trajkovska says.

Part of the young, especially Roma female, use the measure of apprenticeship in a beauty parlor or a hair salon. Trajkovska adds that none of them has complained of discrimination.

“They have been accepted very well and they are treated as equal with the rest of the apprentices,” Trajkovska says.

The Nela hair salon from Kumanovo often hires young Roma via the apprenticeship measure. Part of them have worked as hairdressers for a while and, after acquiring hairdressing skills, some of them have opened their own hair salon either in Macedonia or abroad.

“I may freely say that they are hard-working and some of them are masters of their trade,” hair salon owner Nela Zaharieva says.

Employment Center associate Mladena Jakjimovikj also shares the success stories of the enactment of the Operational Employment Plan measures. The self-employment measure is one of the most appealing measures for the Kumanovo residents. The unemployed may apply with a creative idea and a sustainable business plan and open their own company after receiving an irreversible grant of 4,000 euros paid by invoice. There is great interest for this measure in Kumanovo because there is no larger company here that can employ many people.

“The Roma apply for this measure, so, according to our records, they cover 3-4% of the applications submitted to the Employment Bureau usually about opening artisan stores and small workshops, as envisioned under this measure. We have had a few success stories. For example, two years ago, an unemployed Roma woman applied for self-employment grant, she received it and she opened a textile factory in Skopje, which still exists,” Jakjimovikj says.

About 100 applications were submitted for the previous project in Kumanovo and about 50 people have applied for the current one. Through this measure, 730 companies have been opened in Kumanovo over the past few years and more than 1,700 people have taken part in this project.

“The key thing is for them to actively apply for a job because this is the key criterion. I would like to appeal to all the people in general, especially the unemployed Roma, to regularly apply for a job and for all the offered measures and not only for this one in particular,” Jakjimovikj adds.

Employment Bureau manager Milorad Trenchevski confirms that the Kumanovo Roma do not apply regularly as active job applicants, but that the Roma NGOs have recently been encouraging the Roma to actively look for a job.

“We have candidates who are using the measures envisioned for active job applicants and these measures apply for all the citizens. One of the measures favorable for companies is the exemption from payment of social contributions. Under this measure, 36 Roma citizens have been employed in Kumanovo companies in 2016 and 2017,” Trenchevski says.

The unemployed Roma are greatly interested in the measure of shortage occupations, which the Employment Bureau is enacting in the local high schools, where the unemployed receive a theoretical and practical training in shortage occupations that are most wanted on the labor market, such as locksmiths, montage workers and previously cobblers, cosmeticians, hairdressers and the like. Last year three people, of whom one girl, completed an accountancy training under this measure.

“The foreign language courses are quite popular among the unemployed Roma. Most of the young attend the free German course. Currently, five unemployed Roma women are attending this course,” Trenchevski notes.

Finding a job poses a challenge to all the unemployed, the young Roma in particular. In Kumanovo, there are 18,833 unemployed, of whom 9.742 are active job applicants, while 9,091 are passive job applicants. About 50 vacancies have opened in Kumanovo recently.