The Syndicate of Unified Miners of Bulqiza (SMBB) have agreed to suspend their protest until the Inspectorate of Labor comes with a decision on the firing of two union leaders by Albchrome, the concessionary company of Bulqiza mines, sources from a Thursday meeting of union’s Council told Exit.
The company is owned by Samir Mane, the richest person in Albania.
Albchrome fired the head of SMBB Elton Debreshi only few days after the union was approved by the court. When reportedly over 100 miners boycotted work and started daily protests to demand for Debreshi’s reinstatement, the company responded by firing another union leader, Beqir Duriçi, who is SMBB Council member and accountant.
The union claims their firing is directly related to their union activity, and it’s in open violation to the Labor Code.
Article 181.4 of the Labor Code prohibits and deems it illegal for the employer to fire union representatives without union’s prior approval: “Termination by employer of a union representative’s employment contract without the approval of the union is invalid.”
Albchrome claims the two miners were fired for “violating work ethics”, and after failing to show up at work.
Whilst the union strongly denies any violations by the fired miners, they add that even if miners representing the union violated work ethics, they can’t be fired by the company without union’s approval.
Union leader Elton Debreshi was fired only few days after the union held a small gathering on November 17 in Bulqiza’s main square to announce the court approval of union establishment.
Miners accused the company of undermining the activity of their union, and according to reports from the ground over 100 of them started a protest only one day before a 6.4-magnitude earthquake left 51 dead in Albania, which overshadowed media coverage of the protests.
Union accountant Beqir Duriçi’s firing followed when miners started to protest the firing of their union leader. The union say they will file charges against Albchrome regarding this matter.
Police also intervened by detaining 4 miners for organizing illegal protests, including union leader Debreshi, and released them about 10 hours later.
On Thursday, the Inspectorate of Labour had two meetings in Bulqize– one with Albchrome and one with the Union– after they had already started investigations into the firing of union representatives. The inspectorate has the power to reinstate fired miners if it deems they were fired unjustly and illegally. Miners’ representatives told Exit that they distrust the Inspectorate due to fears they will side with Albchrome, whose owner they consider “one of the most powerful oligarchs in Albania”.
The result of meetings with the Inspectorate was that the protest would be suspended in order to give time to the Inspectorate to make a decision. The miners have returned to work, with the exception of those that were fired.
If the Inspectorate does not reinstate those who have been fired, the miners told Exit that in January they will go on strike until their demands are met. Until then they will return to the mines, to wait out this phase of the negotiations.
Debreshi told BIRN that all of his problems came after he started making efforts to create a new Union. When he was gathering the documents to send to court to start the process, him and three colleagues were called to Tirana and threatened.
“They have openly threatened us saying, you are setting up a new union and you are going to face grave consequences,” Debreshi said.
In fact, most of the Albchrome miners are officially part of an older union, the Albanian Federation of Unions of Industry Employees (FSPISh). The FSPISh told BIRN that 465 of Albchrome miners [about 650 in total] are its members. They said they had secured better working conditions and salaries for miners, and that no miners had died in the mine for three years now.
Albchrome also says it has improved working conditions and safety by investing $55.6 million in its mines since 2013.
The new SMBB union say they were set up to call for better working conditions, better pay, and recognition of the hardships that they experience during the course of their work.
Those who are members of the SMBB claim that older unions for miners in Bulqize do not represent their needs and accused them of taking the side of the mining companies, neglecting the issues facing the workers.
Employees in Albania’s mining industry are some of the most at risk in the country with many losing their lives or being injured every year. Despite this, no company executives have been prosecuted over the last few years.