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Croatian shipbuilders strike over non-payment of wages

24 August, 20184,500 workers at the Uljanik shipbuilding company in Croatia have taken strike action after the financially troubled company failed to pay their wages for July.

Workers are striking at the Uljanik yard in Pula and the Third of May (3. Maj) yard in Rijeka on Croatia’s Adriatic coast. The strike committee, made up of the three unions at the yards, issued a statement calling for the payment of their salaries, and for the resignation of the management of the company.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Croatian metalworkers’ union SMH-IS which represents workers at the yards, has called on the government of Croatia to intervene and cover salary costs in the short term until a restructuring plan is finalized.

SMH-IS supported an application by the Croatian government to the European Commission for approval to underwrite loans to the company to help it meet existing orders. IndustriAll Europe worked with the Croatian Permanent Representation to the EU and the Commission to highlight the importance of the loan so that workers would be paid. In January, the Commission approved a 96 million euros loan guarantee, saving thousands of jobs.

A restructuring plan developed by Uljanik management entails the investment of 24 million euros in Uljanik by Kermas Energija, owned by shipping magnate Danko Končar. This would make Kermas Energija the majority owner. Kermas Energija has paid half this amount, enabling the company to settle some debt and maintain production, but not enough to pay salaries.

An expected loan from the government-owned Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development (HBOR) has not yet materialized. The restructuring plan is subject to approval from the European Commission. Workers at the yards are calling for the deal to be finalized and the remaining money to be paid so that their jobs can be saved.

In an interview on Croatian TV news, SMH-IS president Siniša Kosić stressed that a funding gap need to be bridged so that production could be maintained and jobs saved:

“We need capital to resume production. 3. Maj and Uljanik have orders that need to be fulfilled, and if they are fulfilled that will bring fresh capital….

“There should be a way to overcome these two critical months.”

In a solidarity letter to SMH-IS, IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches wrote:

“It is vitally important that the workers at Uljanik receive their salaries and that their jobs are saved. Shipbuilding is a cornerstone of Croatian industry. These are skilled jobs within a complex supply chain which is critical to the local economy.

“It is also vital that a long term strategy to ensure the sustainability of these yards is found. Workers suffer as the company lurches from crisis to crisis, and the government cannot keep lending public money to privatized industries.”

One of the world’s oldest shipyards, Uljanik was founded in 1856 for the Austro-Hungarian navy. In 2013, ahead of Croatia’s accession to the European Union, Uljanik was privatized, and the newly formed company also acquired the 3. Maj yard. The company is responsible for 6,500 jobs in the Rijeka and Pula regions. Union members hold just under 50 per cent of the shares in Uljanik.