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Bosnia and Herzegovina: union fights to save 1,000 jobs

6 July, 2017A chemical union in Bosnia and Herzegovina is fighting to save 1,000 jobs at the GIKIL coke plant in Lukavac.

The union - Samostalni sindikat hemije i nemetala u Federaciji Bosne i Hercegovine, or the independent trade union of workers in chemistry and non-metals in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union.

The plant, which has been in operation since 1945, is located in the town of Lukavac, 125 kilometres from Sarajevo, in the Canton of Tuzla. There has been an ongoing issue with the 1,000 workers not being paid their salaries on time.

The company signed a collective agreement with the union, and for several months it seemed that the issue had been resolved. However, recently the company started to pay late again. After unsuccessful attempts at negotiation, the union took strike action on 5 June.

The union contends that the company is being mismanaged, with a lack of investment and management stripping capital from the company to pay their high salaries. The union wants management pay to be linked to the average wage in the company, and the ownership structure to be made clear.

GIKIL is a joint venture between Global Steel Holdings and KHK, a coke and chemicals conglomerate owned by the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Global Steel Holdings, an Indian company headquartered in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, acquired the majority share when the company was part-privatized in 2003. The company is owned by Pramod Mittal, brother of ArcelorMittal boss Lakshmi Mittal.

GIKIL has a large amount of debt, but unions believe it has been artificially created, with assets hidden by opaque corporate structures. The plant produces metallurgical coke, and supplies crude tar, ammonium sulphate, crude benzene, anhydride maleic acid and mineral fertilizers.

The union held a demonstration on 7 June in front of the building of the government of Tuzla Canton. The union also held a general meeting within the company premises, which was attended by union members and addressed by the Prime Minister of Tuzla Canton, Bego Gutić, and the minister in charge of the sector, Srđan Mićanović.

On 22 June, under pressure from the union, the Tuzla Canton Assembly held a meeting on the issue, and discussed the demands of union members:

  • To finalize the procedure of administratively registering of the ownership structure of GIKIL d.o.o. Lukavac,
  • To implement investments which were planned by the founding contract (when the company was taken over),
  • To respect the law of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to pay salaries as agreed in the collective agreement,
  • To respect the Health and Safety Law as the company belongs to coke-chemical industry,
  • To protect 1,000 jobs.

The Assembly adopted a resolution in support of the workers’ demands, but the issue has still not been resolved.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches wrote to the Prime Minister of Tuzla Canton, saying:

"We strongly condemn the mistreatment of the 1,000 workers at the company, which left the workers no other choice but to strike and demonstrate. Non-payment of wages is an unacceptable breach of international workers’ rights, as well as of the national legislation of Bosnia and Herzegovina."