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news 11 Aug 17

Kosovo Albanians, Serbs Fear for Trepca Mine’s Future

Kosovo Albanian and Serb workers at the giant Trepca mining complex have a pessimistic outlook about the future of the mine because of its financial troubles and disputes between Pristina and Belgrade.

Die Morina, Maja Zivanovic
Pristina, Belgrade
The Trepca mine complex. Photo: FitimSelimi/Wikimedia.

The Trepca mining complex is split physically along ethnic lines, but Serb workers in the northern part of the former Yugoslav complex and the Kosovo Albanians in the southern part both have concerns about whether it can keep operating.

The fall of Yugoslavia and post-war ethnic divisions helped bring Trepca to the verge of bankruptcy.

A Kosovo law that Pristina said was intended to help save the complex has not been implemented yet because there has been no government in Pristina since the last one collapsed earlier this year.

“Trepca currently has no legitimate management, therefore it is in an institutional vacuum and has remained at the mercy of destiny,” Shyqyri Sadiku, the head of the union representing 1,360 Kosovo Albanian workers at the mine, told BIRN.

“If Trepca continues with this bad management, it will go into bankruptcy,” he added.

The law which has not yet been implemented would transform the mining and industrial processing complex into a shareholding company in which the Kosovo government would control 80 per cent of the shares, while 20 per cent would remain the property of its workers.

This was strongly opposed by Belgrade, which rejects Pristina’s claims of ownership and says it wants to protect the jobs of Serbs working there. Srpska Lista, the main party representing the Serb community in Kosovo, boycotted Kosovo’s institutions for six months in protest.

Dusan Dragovic, the head of the union representing around 3,000 Serb workers in the northern part of the mine, said he was not optimistic about the future for Serbs working there, many of whom want to leave Kosovo altogether.

“The future of the whole of Kosovo will be the future of Trepca. We are here, and we have nowhere else to go. Those who had some other option, they left,” he said.

The Kossev news website quoted Most TV on Sunday as reporting that “with the understanding of the government of Serbia, the [Serb] management expects 600 to 700 workers to decide to take severance pay” at Trepca.

Dragovic confirmed the severance offer but said it was still in the survey phase.

“I think right now there are around 500 of those [workers] who applied for it. Applications are until August 15, with the possibility of extending the deadline, as we have workers who are living in Serbia and are not informed [about the severance offer],” Dragovic told BIRN.

He explained that, since the northern part of Trepca is not able to pay its workers, the Serbian government decided in 2003 to pay around 90 euros a month to each worker out of the state budget.

Around a third of the Serb workers however do earn extra money about this 90 euros a month by working in smaller mines around the Trepca complex.

“Some of us started production in 2005 in small mines near Leposavic, so we have salaries. But not all workers could be involved, just a third,” he said.

During the first six months of this year, there has been a decrease in production of 6,000 tons at the mine, while the working conditions remain poor, according to Sadiku.

“Miners up are forced to work hard to the age of 65. From 2014 to 2017, 20 miners died and many others got diseases,” he said.

He summed up a series of reasons for the poor outlook at the mining complex.

“The workers' conditions are very bad, the financial situation is not stable, we have bad management, misuse, corruption and nepotism, and the labour law and the collective [bargaining] agreement [with the union] is not being implemented,” he said.

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