TIRANA Aug 19 (Reuters) – Albanian chrome miners on hunger strike for higher pay rejected a fresh offer on Friday and defied a court order to end the occupation of an Austrian-run mine.
A dozen miners, from among 700 who have downed tools since July 4, have been on hunger strike for 25 days some 1,400 metres below ground at the operation in Bulqiza in northern Albania.
The miners rejected an offer by Albanian Chrome Sh.p.k (ACR), a division of DCM DECOmetal, for a 20-percent wage rise and other benefits on condition they resume work.
“We want to sign an additional part to the contract to address our demands. If our demands are not met, we shall not quit the strike,” said Kol Nikolla, the head of a trade union federation representing the miners.
ACR said it had met all the miners’ demands and accused Nikolla of holding the mine hostage.
Managers have been evicted from the site and miners and their families have blocked a key access road. Miners have also blocked a lift inside the mine to prevent police from intervening.
Sources said ACR has been buying chrome from other companies to keep its ferrochrome smelters in Elbasan working to supply customers in Europe, the United States and China.
The government has been given court backing to end the hunger strike out of concern for the miners’ health and the loss of state revenue.
“The court’s decision was very clear on the violent occupation of the staff building and the mine. Ending the occupation is the only way for the workers to get back to work and life in the town to return to normal,” ACR said.
Vital maintenance work in the mine’s galleries has caused massess of mineral to fall and damaged machinery.
The court in Diber, close to Bulqiza, authorised the eviction of the striking miners and the deployment of specialists to check on their health.
“The interrruption of work at the mine is also causing incalculable economic and financial losses to the Albanian state,” the Economy Ministry said, without giving a figure.