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Around 85 workers continue protests in front of Ferronikel, Kosovo’s biggest exporter, after the company refused to extend their contracts and banned them from entering the site.
Ferronikel, based in the central Kosovo region of Drenas, says it needed to make cuts in order to survive a fall in the price of nickel on world markets.
But Kosovo’s nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-determination) movement has accused the major exporter of showing compete indifference towards the environmental and social conditions of its workforce.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, workers protested against the termination of their contracts.
The company had 1,008 workers at the New Year, but around 100 have not had their contracts extended this year, mostly this month.
Fehmi Nika, head of the workers union of Ferronikel, told Balkan Insight that the union of workers met on Monday.
“We have discussed with the management about retaining them [the sacked staff] and we’re supporting the workers, but they have created their own protest group and started a protest,” Nika said.
Nika said the union had not received a list with the names of the workers whose contracts hadn’t been extended.
Ferronikel was bought at the end of 2005 for 30 million euro by Cunico Resources N.V., which has its headquarters in Holland.
When Ferronikel was sold, the purchaser was obliged to invest 20 million euro within three years and retain 1,000 members of staff for two years.
In 2009, the Kosovo Agency for Privatization, KPA, reported that the buyer had exceeded the pledges for investment and hiring.
“The Board of the KPA decided in 2009 to release [the company] from monitoring,” Ylli Kaloshi, KPA spokesman, recalled.
“KPA has no longer any competence over this company and cannot tell it how many workers it should keep in work,” he added.
The company says it regrets having to terminate contracts but adds that it has no legal obligations to retain the workers.
“Ferronikel has tried to solve the problem by terminating contracts with several contractors,” spokesman Ekrem Tahiri said.
“I understand that many people don’t believe this, but this was a necessary measure to enable the company to continue working in the new circumstances of the global economic crisis.”
Tahiri said that Ferronikel had continued to produce around the same amounts of Ferronikel, despite the crisis, but that the price of the metal had fallen on the international market.
“For several months Ferronikel has been making losses of 2 million euro a month. This is not politics, its merely business,” he said.
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Tahiri said that the management now thinks that with 900 workers the company is safe.
But Vetevendosje says that Ferronikel is only interested in the “big profits” and “does not care about the negative social and environmental impact.
“The Vetevendosje movement in Drenas calls on all the central and local institutions, political and public, to react strongly and to oblige Ferronikel to restore the fired workers and improve their working conditions,” Vetevendojse said in a statement.
The head of the movement in Drenas, Petrit Bajraktari, said that production in the company in the last month had been greater than ever before, around 650 tonnes a month.
Ferronikel was fined earlier this year for a second environmental offence after it was found to have emitted after it was found that it had removed filters from its flues.
In two high-profile war crimes trials currently ongoing in Pristina, a series of witnesses have retracted previous statements alleging abuse at Kosovo Liberation Army detention centres.