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Cauldrons of Hell

Ex-employees of “Ferronikeli” enterprise who were dismissed from work in June of this year say that their lives have become very difficult. Most of them have loans in banks and without salaries now cannot pay them back. Some of them were dismissed while they were in medical leave, which is forbidden by law. The injuries that these employees have suffered have disabled them to be able to start looking for another job somewhere else.

28 August 2012

Halim Morina is now unemployed since managers of Ferronikeli had decided to terminate his contract while he was on leave for medical treatment for injuries sustained while working in the factory of Ferronikeli.

Halimi is more than fifty years of age, married, and before being dismissed from work he was the only one of eight family members who worked and generated income. The accident in the work site was terrible. He fell in the bioler (which had been left open for some time) which is used for cooling the furnaces of the factory. His body fell in one of these channels up to the waist, causing burns of third degree which left him paralyzed for three weeks. This accident happened in January of this year.

Another unfortunate accident happened in the same channels, leaving employee Armend Fejza aged 24 dead. These are two of the most severe accidents of this type in the factory of Ferronikeli. Workers explain that there were other cases when employees fell in these channels, but they were more lucky since water temperatures at those moments were lower.

Since this company was privatized, a lot of workers were thrown out into the street, but many currently working there risk their lives.

“Ferronikeli” was privatized at the end of 2005 for 30 million euros by Cunico Resource company, against the will of the workers. The manner in which it was privatized raised a lot of criticism by the civil society, especially concerning the low price by which it was sold. According to a documentary produced by ÇOHU!, just before privatization, Hashim Thaçi had asked the citizens of Drenas to support this privatization since, according to him, this would bring economic development not only to Drenas inhabitants but to the entire Kosovo.

Silence in “exchange” for the work position

“I did not have the courage to ask for reparations since I was afraid I would be fired”, says Morina in an interview for Preportr when explaining why did not once sue the company. However, his attitude changed when the company dismissed him from work in June 2012, with the pretext that his work contract had already expired, together with the contracts of 85 other workers. After being dismissed, Halimi sued Ferronikeli for the violation of the Labour Law and has asked for reparations. Halimi today is expecting a court verdict, knowing all the time that after the accident he will not be capable anymore to do many of the works he used to.

“The land we used to own as a family have been expropriated 40 years ago by Ferronikeli enterprise”, says Halimi. “and we have no other income in the family”.

The same fate awaited also Avni Hasani who was chief of firefighters unit in Ferronikeli. Today he is unemployed and all medical reports recommend him to apply for disability pension. He has terminated physiotherapy since he cannot afford to pay it. His income of 395 euros he used to earn from the dangerous work he did were the only income for the 12 member-family, says Hasani. He slammed against one of the lower doors and suffered spine fractures.

He explains that there used to be up to four fire interventions in the daily work. In the fatal day of the accident, there were only two firefighters on the shift.

On April 20 of 2010 he was sent to the emergency in Prishtina hospital by a company car.

“They did not send me with the ambulance vehicle of Ferronikeli, but with a jeep of managers in order not to show that accidents are happening in the company”, says Hasani. After being sent to the emergency, he had remained in the hospital for four months on medical leave. “I returned in order to save my job since manager Iftam Ben Shlomo, responsible for emergencies, requested that I return to work. They do work there in the izraeli-palestinian style”, says Hasani.

He had taken leave without pay during the months of November and December. “I have strong headaches from time to time, I cannot sleep till late, sometimes I even lose sight for 10-15 seconds. My treatment costs around 12 thousand euros Maybe this is why they dismissed me from work”, says he

Hasani reveals another delicate document after he was dismissed from work. He had sent an e-mail which would then be considered intimidating in the electronic address list of Ferronikeli employees. He had been detained in the Prishtina police station for four hours due to that email, after being arrested by special police units. Through the email, he had requested from the management to bring him back to work since, due to injuries sustained, he could not find another job. He says that he is not happy for what happened and ends his e-mail of two hundred words with “I will do something which the whole world will hear of, something like in Oslo”. He referred here to Andres Breivik who was charged for murdering of 90 persons in 2011.

You may lose your hand, but not work

Fehmi Nika, head of the syndicate in Ferronikel admits that violation of rights, injuries in work sight, endangerment of life...all happen there. He is not optimistic that employees can use other means to ensure their rights except for addressing the courts.

Nika confirms that the worst is happening with the workers laid off. He says that one of them has managed to find another work. Most of them have bank loans which they supposed would be paid back through salary installments.

“You know what the worst is? The worker dedicates his life and works for 30 years there, and when he is thrown out he has no right to return to even take his glasses, telephone or some literature”. Even Nika is afraid. He does not give names of injured employees since he fears they might be laid off. But he tells their story.

“There are people who have lost their limbs. One of them lost his hand, but he does not dare to sue for reparations for body injuries because he might lose his job”, says he.

Nika says that even the workers currently working there experience oppression by the managers. According to him, they have been pressed against a very difficult position.

“The management has told the remaining workers to sign a petition which would declare that they distance themselves from strikes and protests for the laid off workers”, tells Nika.

“Our contracts were one-year contracts, but after the New Year they were remodelled to three-month contracts”

The contracts were terminated while they were in medical leave!

Halim Morina’s contract was terminated while he was on medical leave. Although he suffered grave injuries while working in the company, this fact did not seem relevant to the management of Ferronikeli who terminated his contract unjustfully, while he was still on medical leave.

Chief Inspector Basri Ibrahimi was not informed about this case.

“We are not aware of a single case when the contract was terminated while the worker was on medical leave”, says he.

According to him, the Labour Law does not foresee any reparations to the employee by the employer, and that this law does not foresee any time-period up to which the company should cover the treatment costs.

“The Labour Law states that medical treatment should be covered only for 90 days after the injury. The rest should be arranged through the law on health insurance. As regards other expenses, the Labour Law does not foresee anything, but the employee may press charges. It should be compensated only of the court deems it as a violation”, says Ibrahimi.

“Even if the contract expires, the treatment should continue for 90 days. The contract may not be terminated, as it may not also be terminated during pregnancy leave, and we strongly protect this right”.

According to the Labour Law, the termination of the contract cannot be considered while on medical leave. Article 12 says that “the continuation of the employment of the worker is not considered for termination, such as in cases below: 1.1. after having used the annual leave, medical leave, pregnancy leave or any other leave taken in accordance with the law”

The same (bad) fate befell on Behar Morina. He was injured in “Ferronikel”. He went on medical leave. His contract was terminated. He had been working for five years in this company.

Behar says that after the medical leave, he was recommended to take an annual leave, and during this time he was notified on the termination of the contract.

“I was injured in February of this year. I was working when an iron piece fell on me and caused me major injuries. It injured my leg ligament and caused me trombosis and muscle contraction. After the medical leave, I returned to work, but they recommended me to take annual leave. On the annual leave, four days later, I received the decision on the termination of the contract”, says Behar.

Like his colleagues, he also sued Ferronikel and is expecting the review of his case.

“I have denounced the case in the court and I am requestions reparations. No I am wating for the case to be reviewed”, says he.

Avni, Behar and Halim have not been preliminary notified about contracts being terminated, as is regulated by article 70 of the Labour Law, act 3 which says: “The employer should hold a meeting with the employee in order to explain to him/her the termination of the contract or in order to hand over the warning. The employee may be accompanied by a representative according to his own wish”.

Injuries are normal in the industry

However, the management of “Ferronikeli” does not admit that they have committed any violation. According to them, the law was respected fully. Naturally, they say the company has taken all measures to prevent any serious injury. But they have not conceded to speak regarding the cases of workers in particular. They have chosen to speak of entirely other matter and entirely other persons.

“All employees who are between 60 and 63 will be given 100 euros for two consecutive years, whereas those who are over 63 will be given 100 euros until retirement”, says Shpetim Ukaj, information officer of this company.

Concerning the 80 workers who were left unemployed through the termination of the contracts, they say the law was respected 100 percent. “As regards the non-continuation of the contracts for around 80 workers in Ferronikel, the law was respected 100 percent, and this has been confirmed also by the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare”, says Ukaj in his answer.

Injuries are normal they say. “As regards the injuries at work, in heavy industry, this is possible” says he and adds that measures have been taken through various trainins with employees, and the the ambulance in the sight..

“We can say that the injury cases at work in the last years are much smaller than when the company acted as a social enterprise, and this is a consequence of the investmnets in equipment and personnel training” says Ukaj.

“Ferronikeli” has had a contract which was deemed as very favorable for this enterprise, and very damaging for KEK, since the electricity offered to this company was much cheaper. The contract was signed ever since this company started functioning after being privatized and continued until April 2011.

The company is one of the top polluters in the country. Many explosions happened there. Ferronikel was built in 1984 and since then it produces iron and nikel for export.

The production capacities of the two foundries are 45 000 tons per year.