Closure Looms for Bulgaria's Troubled Lead-Zinc Complex

Industry | June 27, 2012, Wednesday // 14:42|  views

Workers of the Lead and Zinc Complex in Kardzhali are seen collecting signatures for a petition in their support. Photo by BNR

All workers from the Electric Energy Supply facility at Bulgaria's troubled largest producer of non-ferrous metals, the Lead and Zinc Complex (LZC; OTZK) in the southern city of Kardzhali, have decided to deposit requests to be released from duties.

According to the news agency BGNES, a total of 9 people from the facility supplying electricity to the entire complex, including their supervisor, have decided Wednesday to terminate their labor contracts.

Representatives of the Confederation of Independent Syndicates in Bulgaria, KNSB, at the complex say that without them the plant cannot continue work and will have to stop all processes and close. There are no other people with the needed training to replace those leaving.

According to KNSB, the metallurgists have issued yet another ultimatum to the OTCK management to find a solution for their overdue wages by Saturday, June 30, otherwise the nightshift would not show up for work and the plant will stop at midnight on July 1.

The trade unions further inform that workers will not stage new protest rallies since they now realize this does not lead to any positive development. The requests for contract termination will be officially submitted on Friday or Monday because the metallurgists wish to complete the month.

Over 400 employees approached Monday the accounting department of the plant to ask documents about what is owed to them, and then file claims with the Regional Court with the hope they can legally pressure the owner to pay the wages.

They decided to not quit but rather seek their overdue salaries through the Court after being informed that First Investment Bank, FIB, has been able to find a private investor for the troubled producer of non-ferrous metals.

The trade union representatives say that the two banks which are the top creditors of the complex are aggravating the problem because they are pushing for different investors.

FIB is keeping the name of the supposed investor secret for the next two weeks on grounds they wish to see first the outcome of the negotiations.

The problems in Kardzhali have been festering since March 2012. The workers at the plant, owned by Valentin Zahariev, have not received their salaries for 6 months now, which provoked a number of mass protest rallies.

After the government interfered, they were paid a 1.5 monthly salary right before Easter. At the time, Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, personally promised them a new owner, to be found in 2 months. The only interested investor remaining now is the Polish Silesia, Economy and Energy Minister, Delyan Dobrev admitted.

However, according to the regional coordinator of the Zashtita (Protection) labor union, Stefan Atanasov, the new "FIB" investor is not the Polish Holding. He informed that FIB was ready to finance this "mysterious" company

The mass departure of employees can create huge problems, metallurgy experts explain. The zinc must be kept in liquid state otherwise the furnaces will become unusable. This would not present an environmental hazard for the city, but will force the complex either to close for good or to replace the furnaces in question.

The technologist of the plant, Stefan Atanasov, on his part, alarms that if huge tanks filled with sulfuric acid are to be left unmonitored, possible leaks can cause an environmental disaster, adding this is what is stopping people from quitting.

The leaks can poison the waters of the nearby dam, spreading the damage even to neighboring Greece and Turkey, the workers warn.

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