By Linda Karadaku
On the 27th day of a hunger strike, Albanian miners were removed from the Bulqiza chrome mine by special police on Saturday (August 20th). The move followed a court decision based on a request by the energy ministry.
Special police surrounded the mine on Friday evening, and after negotiations with union leaders and miners, finally convinced the miners to leave. No incidents were reported.
The miners are demanding a pay raise of at least 20%, better working conditions and changes to the administration of the mine.
The head of the miners’ union, Kol Nikollaj, told SETimes that the miners had to respect the court decision, but would continue to strike outside the mine.
“We will gather on Monday in front of ACR [Albanian Chrome] headquarters in Bulqiza. We are waiting to sign the agreement with ACR. We asked the Ministry of Labour to implement the law on labour,” Nikollaj said, underlining that the court decision stated the miners have the right to strike.
He also said union leaders and strike leaders were questioned by the police for about two and a half hours.
Rohtraut Skatche-Depich, director of Deco-Metal, the parent company of ACR, told SETimes that the company has invested 32m euros in ACR since 2007.
“Unfortunately [it has] developed to the present situation,” Skatche-Depich said.
“My understanding is that this problem in Bulqiza was created artificially by union representatives who have their own agenda and personal interest… I think they, illegally, are trying to take over the mine,” she said, adding the stoppage of work for over a month has damaged the mine.
She confirmed Deco-Metal and ACR are ready to compromise and sign an agreement with the council of workers, a six-member group representing the miners.
The ministry of energy has also argued to the court that the strike damages the mine and creates serious risks for the life and health of the strikers.
“Also, stopping work in the mine is causing the Albanian state enormous economic and financial damage,” the ministry said, adding that ignoring vital operations to keep the mine functioning causes destruction of highly valuable machinery.
The miners’ strike has also become a political issue between the incumbent Democratic Party (DP) and the head of the opposition, Edi Rama. At the weekend, Rama published an editorial in the Albanian dailies seeking clear support for the miners.
“The miners have no chance to be able to make it if they do not get the whole town on their side, and the town has no chance to survive misery if it does not join the miners,” Rama said, accusing Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s government of destroying national property.
The DP responded, saying Rama “does not even bring a single proposal to the interest of the life of the miners on strike” and accusing him of manipulating the miners’ situation.