Trepça miners' strike, Photo: BIRN

Underground Strike: Trepca Miners in Mitrovica Demand Improved Working Conditions

For the past week, the miners of Trepça, facing serious health concerns, have remained on strike, pressing for enhanced working conditions while Kosovo's institutions have yet to respond.

Approximately 100 miners from the Stantërg mine, located in the 10th horizon of the “Trepça” company in Mitrovica, have been on strike for seven days, citing a pressing need for improved working conditions and health insurance among their demands.

Destan Kerleshi, a representative from the Trepça Workers Union, informed BIRN on Monday that during the night, 10 miners sought medical assistance, with one being urgently transported to the hospital while unconscious.

“Their health condition is severe. Since 7:00 PM, 10 miners have sought medical aid, with 2 sent to the regional hospital, and one in an unconscious state,” Kerleshi reported.

“I implore all relevant stakeholders to contribute to the miners’ safe extraction from the mine. Their condition worsens with each passing moment,” he added.

The strike at Trepça commenced on October 24, with the miners affirming their stance not to cease until their three demands are met: timely payment of monthly salaries from the 6th to the 10th of each month, the dismissal of management [chief executive], and assurances regarding health insurance and improved working conditions.

Besim Haxha, one of the striking miners, expressed on October 24 that they would persist in their strike until their demands are addressed.

“Unless our demands are met, we won’t leave. Only the sick will exit. We’ve peacefully pleaded, but they’ve declined to cooperate. Henceforth, this is our decision,” he conveyed to journalists.

Conversely, the Government of Kosovo has not yet responded or visited the miners.

During a media conference last Friday, when questioned by BIRN about the delay in investment promises and the ongoing miner strike, PM Albin Kurti did not comment on the matter.

The head of the Parliamentary Group of the ruling party, Lëvizja Vetëvendosje, Mimoza Kusari-Lila said on Monday that they see this strike as unnecessary.

“The information coming in is a bit contradictory, in relation to the number of miners who are on strike, in relation to the way the strike is being held, that there is no organizational Council with which to talk officially,” she said.

Kusari – Lila added that the Government is in constant communication about the situation, but that the demands of the strikers “have moved to a strange stage”.

“When the strike started, it was the issue of salaries, when the government’s decision was made and the salaries were disbursed, then the focus was on the demand for the dismissal of the chief executive, and the Board of the company is responsible for this issue, not the Assembly,” she said.

According to her, the conditions in the company do not bring solutions.

“We see all of this as an opportunity that can be resolved, but the conditions of the form of either fire the chief or we don’t get out of here, do not bring or will not be good for the enterprise either,” she added.

Trade unions from Albania and the US have  come out in support of the Trepca miners.

The Independent Union of Trepca Miners has published a letter, which, according to it, has been sent to the PM of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, by the United Mine Workers of America, UMWA.

According to the letter, UMWA stands in solidarity with its Kosovar colleagues, who have been on strike since October 24.

“It is a tragic state of affairs when workers who risk their lives every day for the good of their country are forced to go on strike to secure a fair collective agreement that provides dignity, a safe working environment, vital health benefits and fair compensation for the critical service they provide” – says the letter, published by the union on Facebook. 

President of the United Trade Unions of Albania, UTUA Gëzim Kalaja, said that the demands of the miners are fair and should be taken into account by the institutions of Kosovo.

“Your demands are right, and that the government and politics of Kosovo, the parliament, have an obligation to sit down in dialogue with you to solve the problems that the miners of Trepça and the union of Trepça are looking for,” he told the miners at the mine, last week. 

On October 23, the Kosovo government allocated 1,675,150 euros for the public enterprise Trepça. However, Ibrahim Jonuzi, head of the Miners’ Union, indicated that the allocated funds don’t cover their basic expenses.

Back in February, the Minister of Economy, Artane Rizvanolli, announced a 20 million euros loan for Trepça from the Kosovo government. Nevertheless, there has been no progress in realizing this announcement.

The Supervisory Board of Trepça and the management have urged an end to the strike.

“It is concerning that the strikers’ demands are inconsistent and lack organizational structure. There is a dearth of information about the strike’s organizers, initiators, and the miners’ health,” their response outlined.

They mentioned that the sole active request remaining is the dismissal of the current chief executive, pledging continuous evaluation of senior officials as per the law and ensuring appropriate action against any violation.

BIRN attempted to reach Enis Abdurrahmani, the acting executive director of Trepça, but received no response.

Meanwhile the acting director of the Stantërg Mine, Bujar Jashari, resigned from this position on October 27.

He told BIRN that the Supervisory Board of Trepca asked him to resign.

“The reason was that I am not managing the situation well with the strike and I am not managing to identify all the strikers and hand over their names, because I did not provide them with detailed information about which of the companies or persons are bringing them free food,” he said.

BIRN has extensively covered the challenging conditions at Trepça, a metallurgical giant once widespread in the Western Balkans, now grappling with a lack of state investment. Outdated equipment and a shortage of spare parts have hindered income generation.

“The conditions are dreadful, lacking proper ventilation. We even buy our gloves and boots, a practice continuing for over two years,” miner Gëzim Osmani shared with BIRN earlier this month.

Prior to the last war in Kosovo, the Trepça metallurgical plant employed over 20,000 workers. Presently, approximately 2,000 individuals work at this public enterprise.

During the summer, miners protested through a strike due to management delaying wages following declining production and revenue.

and 30/10/2023 - 17:35

30 October 2023 - 17:35

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