Montenegrin miners storm company headquarters

While tensions mount over labour negotiations in South Africa, one group of Montenegrin miners took matters into their own hands and stormed company offices.

The workers have been battling with unions and a local bauxite mining company for about a year now over unpaid wages – they have not received a salary since October 2012. They are also owed payment on an additional three months for the summer of 2010.

After months of failed negotiations, several dozen miners broke in to the firm’s headquarters in the city of Niksic last Wednesday demanding unpaid wages and threatening to block other operations.

“We’ve been pushed to the edge of existence,” Ilija Đilas, a worker, told Montenegro’s Vijesti. “The school year is starting soon and we don’t have money to get our kids ready for school.”

The company has promised to deliver December’s wages by September 1 and January’s two weeks after that.

But miners have little faith in the promises of the union and the company since the labour organization promised but failed, to get them their salaries by March 8.

“They’ve been saying this for about a year now,” one worker told Vijesti. “It’s a lie. It’s just their way of convincing workers to not protest so they can get their salary of 3,000 euros and sit around.”

In April, around 30 workers went on a hunger strike and locked themselves into the mine. They left three days later after the company and union reached an agreement whereby the government would borrow up to one million euros in order to pay the salaries. Since then nothing has happened.

In an interview with Vijesti, the city’s mayor said the government never actually promised to get the money but rather that they would help help the company to do so.

The bauxite producer, Bauxite Mines Niksic, owned by the Central European Aluminum company, technically employs 314 workers but due to serious financial troubles – including potential bankruptcy – operations have been on hold since 2011. According to Balkan Insight, in 2012 the country’s central commercial bank said the firm should declare bankruptcy because it owes more than 1.5 million euros. A court later rejected this demand because bank representatives did not attend legal hearings.

In addition to unpaid wages, miners are also asking to go back to work. A union representative told Vijest that several interested buyers have put offers on the site – details of which will be released in the next few days he said. After hunger strikes ended in April a union representative told reporters that work would resume in May – which it didn’t.

The miners say their next move will be to block shipments from other mine sites. A company representative said this would be illegal and would only “complicate an already difficult situation.”

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