The catastrophic situation in the Slovak machinery industry has been reflected in strike alerts called by workers at two factories - Hontianske strojárne in Krupina and Mostáreň Brezno. Both protests concern salaries that have not been paid for several months.
"The situation has slipped out of the control of the factories, which means that from now on the government should solve it," said Peter Janíček, vice chairman of the KOVO metalworkers' federation.
More than 400 workers from Hontianske strojárne (machinery works) in Krupina (south Slovakia) announced a strike alert on September 29 after not receiving their full June salaries. "They [management] promised to pay the rest of the June and August salaries by September 25 and they didn't," explained Jozef Labuda, a union leader at the company.
Fed up with broken wage promises, the workers decided to express their unhappiness publicly. "Since September 29, we have been wearing red ribbons pinned to our clothes as a sign of the strike alert," explained Labuda. He added that the workers had dismayed by the arrival of bailiffs and debt collectors at the company. "The promised loan from Istrobanka hasn't come, so the company has almost no money for production," Labuda added.
When contacted by The Slovak Spectator, Hontianske strojárne management were unwilling to provide the figure. "They [management] will never reveal it," said Labuda.
But on September 24, less than a week before the strike alert was called, the company signed a 30 million Sk ($750,000) contract with NATO to produce the unique Božena de-mining machines. "Actually, we have never started their production, because we didn't have the money ," said Labuda.
Ján Butkovský, the director of the company, said on September 25 that "there is a possibility that the company will be shut down by October 1," but as of October 7, production was still going on.
Just a day after the engineering company in Krupina went on strike alert, employees at Mostáreň Brezno (a bridge parts maker from central Slovakia) did the same thing. The reason was the same - unpaid salaries for June, July and August as well as the threat of personnel cuts.
The company's debts, which sit at over four million crowns, are owned by the mother company, which decreased the number of its employees from 4,000 in 1989 to 17 in 1998. The daughter companies employ about 780 people, but in reality are able to pay only 400 employees.
Mostáren Brezno's monthly turnover is 12 million Sk, but over the last eight months it has incurred losses of 27 million Sk. Labour unions are worried that a mass sacking might raise the rate of unemployment in Brezno region from its current 17% to a critical level of 28-30%.
12. Oct 1998 at 0:00 | Slavomír Danko