Miners in Bulqiza from the Syndicate of Unified Miners of Bulqiza (SMBB) are set to continue their strike against AlbChrome, after the company fired two of the union’s leaders in November. The SMBB was established to address the dangerous working conditions in the Albanian chrome mines and the lack of investments.
As a result of Exit’s reporting, AlbChrome, which is owned by wealthy businessman Samir Mane, sent us an official refutation stating that “AlbChrome […] excels as regards the safety of its miners in Bulqiza,” claiming that its mines had been certified by the US company Predictive Safety. Albchrome further claimed it had invested $2 million on the safety of the mines since 2013.
Exit reached out to the SMBB for a response to AlbChrome’s claims about improving the safety of the mines. Following is the response of the miners, which live in one of the poorest and underserved regions of Albania. Exit is unable to independently verify their statement.
The wages and bonuses have fallen since AlbChrome has taken over the company. Meanwhile, the production targets have nearly doubled. Before AlbChrome took over, the food allowance was additional to the wage we received. Now it is integrated in the wage. Meanwhile, the wages in the informal mines are higher than in AlbChrome which pushes some workers to work on those mines despite the imminent danger to their lives.
There is also a claim that the health and safety conditions are the best among the companies operating in Bulqiza. Although the situation in AlbChrome is better than in the other mines, especially the informal ones, there remain serious issues of health and safety.
Given the lack of official data on the casualties in the mines in Albania, the [SMBB] has tried to collect worker testimonies. Of the 19 mineworkers killed in Bulqiza in the period since 2013 when AlbChrome started operating, 8 were from AlbChrome. This is by no means a spectacular record for AlbChrome and shows that the health and safety issue is still a major concern. Meanwhile, less severe accidents are a daily occurrence.
In cases of accidents, the company tries to avoid any responsibilities by keeping two different charts for work organization. If an accident occurs, the company changes the chart and claims that the worker was in a work position different from what the company has asked him to be. The dead/injured workers are usually guilty for the accident. Even in the cases where it is proven that AlbChrome is responsible for the accident, the family of the workers are forced to hire a lawyer to be able to receive the compensation and pay a substantial part of the compensation.
In addition, the workers are not provided with the specialized medical examination needed for the particular health problems affecting them such as those related to the respiratory system, kidney and rheumatism. The infamous check-up examinations, that are provided to all the Albanian citizens for free has replaced the much-needed visits by specialized doctors who can handle the workers specific health problems.
The workers have to go through a very long procedure just to be equipped with gloves. Boots are only provided every four months even though they may be already worn-out. Finally, in a number of cases workers are not even given a copy of their individual contract. They have been forced to sign the individual contract without being able to read it. Where workers have asked to read the contract before signing it, they were threatened with dismissal.