Bulgaria: Disputes over delayed pay at Bobov Dol mines

In May 2014 Bulgarian media reported alleged pressure on miners before the European elections on how to vote, and problems with the use of food vouchers to pay 2,500 miners in Bobov Dol. Four months later, problems with the regular payment of salaries were not resolved, part of a pattern of uncertainty in the Bulgarian energy sector.

Background

On 25 May 2014 a hidden camera report by the Nova television station described how miners in the Bobov Dol mines were put under pressure to vote for a particular party ahead of the European elections in order to receive their pay. Two days later, the same station reported that miners queued for hours in company shops to spend food vouchers received from their employer instead of wages, vouchers that can only be spent in a shop owned by the mine’s owner. (See reports on elections and queuing, in Bulgarian.)

Officials of the Podkrepa Confederation of Labour say this is an infringement. Although the employer is registered as a provider of vouchers, by law these should be usable in various shops. The General Labour Inspectorate (GLI) inspected the Bobov Dol mines at the request of the Ombudsman, Konstantin Penchev, with complaints of indiscriminate violation of workers’ rights.

The GLI inspection found that the employer provides food to employees under a law which sets out procedures for providing free food to certain workers (Ordinance № 11 of 21.12.2005, in Bulgarian). In relation to the Ombudsman’s indication that wages ‘are not paid regularly ... and part of the wages paid in the form of food vouchers’, the inspection found no delays in payment of wages.

Employees in strike

However, problems with the regular payment of wages were not resolved and miners continued to strike. On 29 August 2014, workers refused to leave after the first shift and their colleagues from the second shift could not begin. The same day, the mine received a letter saying that less of its coal will be purchased in future; a decision that means some miners may be made redundant.

Underlying miners’ protests is the restriction of the energy supply by the Ministry of Environment and Water and the Energy System Operator, according to Bulgarian National Radio. The restriction affects the work of one of the blocks of the Bobov Dol thermal power plant, which the mine supplies.

In September 2014, as workers were preparing for a strike over delayed salaries, the management, supported by the workers, asked the State to reconsider its decision to shut down one part of the power plant. The miners said their wages had been delayed for a month and a half, and blamed the ministry for limiting the operation of thermal power plants, and therefore of the mine. Other miners, however, said wages had been irregular for a long time.

Agreement to reduce production

An agreement between the government, and management and unions at Bobov Dol about managing power plant and coal enterprises in the region has since been achieved, according to the Ministry of Economy and Energy. It was decided to extend the time limit for simultaneous operation of units 1 and 2 of the power plant to October 2014. After this date power production must be reduced.

Podkrepa has warned that the continued irregular payments between companies in the energy sector has led to serious problems in coal enterprises, namely the irregular payment of wages, lack of viable programmes for health and safety at work, and lack of repair and investment activities.

The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria is seeking guarantees on the quantities of coal mined and reorganisation of the energy sector without closing manufacturing companies. Both unions are actively engaged in various legislation activities toward effective restructuring of the Bulgarian energy sector.

Local management blames delays in payment of wages on general problems in the electricity sector.

The problems in Bobov Dol mines are not an isolated case. Workers at several mines in the country are protesting over unpaid wages and insecurity in the energy sector.

 

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