Trade union organises support fund for glassworkers

The Trade Union of Workers in the Glass, Ceramics, Glass Jewellery and Porcelain Industry is trying to find a way to help the 1,750 employees of the Bohemia Crystalex Trading group at its plants in Poděbrady and Světlá nad Sázavou. After the initiation of insolvency proceedings at both plants, workers have not received their September salaries. The trade union has thus called on its some 70 member organisations to make a special contribution to the union’s support fund.

Impact of insolvency proceedings

Numerous companies of the glass manufacturing group Bohemia Crystalex Trading have been in insolvency proceedings since 22 September 2008. This includes the two glassworks companies Sklo Bohemia in Světlá nad Sázavou in the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic located on the frontier between Bohemia and Moravia, and Sklárny Bohemia in Poděbrady in central Bohemia. Until the insolvency proceedings were initiated, the group did not owe any salaries to employees. It only began to experience problems when the banks froze its accounts (for more information on the Czech glass industry crisis, see CZ0810039I). Thus, about 1,750 workers at the company’s plants in Poděbrady and Světlá nad Sázavou did not receive their salaries for September 2008.

In this case, even the labour offices cannot help those employees who did not receive their September salaries, as the entitlement to the salaries did not arise before the initiation of the insolvency proceedings. According to the President of the Trade Union of Workers in the Glass, Ceramics, Glass Jewellery and Porcelain Industry (Odborový svaz zaměstnanců sklářského, keramického, bižuterního průmyslu a porcelánu, OS SKBP), Vladimír Kubinec, ‘the union headquarters itself will be releasing a half million crowns to help people in difficult situations’.

Support measures for glassworkers

The insolvency administrator at the Sklo Bohemia factory in Světlá nad Sázavou, Helena Horová, already recommended to the employees that they hand in their notice to their employer. Although they are entitled to their salaries and severance pay, they may have to wait several months to be paid, and it is not certain how much they will actually receive. As soon as they hand in their notice, however, they can apply immediately for unemployment benefits or find a job elsewhere. As a result, glassworkers in the Světlá nad Sázavou plant were expected to hand in their notice in mid November, which is the earliest they can leave without losing their entitlement to severance pay.

According to Mr Kubinec of OS SKBP, ‘the first workers with requests for help have already turned to the local trade union organisations, and more are coming every day’. He argued that glassworkers need immediate financial help because they do not have any money for food or rent. The trade union’s headquarters do not have enough funds to help everyone, which is why OS SKBP requested assistance from its other member organisations in the field. Mr Kubinec explained the union’s initiative as follows: ‘First, we considered a public collection, but there is too much bureaucracy involved and its announcement would take too long.’ For instance, a collection can only commence 30 days after it is announced. Only in life threatening situations or in the case of natural catastrophes can this deadline be brought forward. Therefore, up to CZK 2,000 (about €78 as at 20 November 2008) a month will be given to workers in the most urgent need in the form of food vouchers to the value of CZK 100 (€4) each. This assistance is only available to trade union members, which means to about 700 people of the 1,200 employees of Sklo Bohemia.

Town councillors in Poděbrady, the town affected by the closure of Sklárny Bohemia, will help people through the offer of interest-free loans. The members of the town council have already approved this measure, but discussions still have to be held on the final form of such loans. The original proposal was to offer loans amounting to CZK 18,000 (€700), payable in two instalments by mid 2009. Only those people who are permanent residents of Poděbrady are eligible for these loans – this concerns about half of the 448 employees employed at the Sklárny Bohemia plant.

Government approach

Trade unionists have turned to the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Petr Nečas, with a request for assistance. According to them, the minister can provide help by introducing a system of social subsidies. ‘I have no idea who else should be resolving this situation,’ noted Mr Kubinec of OS SKBP. He also emphasised that, due to a lack of action on the part of the state as a majority shareholder in Bohemia Crystalex Trading and a lack of cohesion of legal norms, glassworkers have been without pay since September 2008 and will not be receiving either unemployment benefits or emergency assistance until the end of the year. Minister Nečas has announced his willingness to meet with trade unionists to discuss the issue.

Trade union protest

In light of this situation, OS SKBP decided to organise a demonstration outside government offices on 23 October 2008 in protest against the state’s approach to the situation at the two glassworks companies. The trade unions demanded special assistance from the government. The estimated 300–500 demonstrators blame the state as one of the owners of both glassworks companies for the current situation. No government official attended the demonstration.

Soňa Veverková, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (RILSA)

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