Workers at an oil refinery in Ballsh in southwest Albania took action to demand two months of unpaid wages and insurance, as well as 13 months of wages missing from previous years’ settlements.
The refinery employs 1,000 of the 7,600 inhabitants of Ballsh, and failure to pay Novembers’ wages caused serious economic hardship in the town in the run up to Christmas. Members of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Trade Union Federation of Industrial Workers of Albania (TUFIWA) began a demonstration outside the refinery on 21 December to demand the unpaid wages.
The refinery in Ballsh was part-privatized in 2008, and is currently run for the Albanian national oil company ARMO by the Ionian Refinery & Trading Company (IRTC), an Albanian-US join venture. The refinery has stopped production on a number of occasions due to a lack of crude oil supplies, and workers have not been paid. Oil suppliers say they have withheld delivery because of lack of payment by the company.
IRTC also operates a refinery in the city of Fier, 25 kilometres away. On 27 December, 1,200 workers demonstrated outside local government offices in Fier. Two hundred TUFIWA members then marched for 100 kilometres all day and overnight from Fier to the capital, Tirana. After arriving on the morning of 28 December, they demonstrated outside the energy ministry, finance ministry and office of the Prime Minister.
The energy minister Damian Gjiknur agreed to meet representatives of the workers, and convened a meeting of government officials, including the finance minister, the employer and the unions.
After the meeting, the 200 union members who took action received their unpaid wages. A court case is still ongoing to settle the wage demands of the other 1,000 workers.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:
“This impressive display of unity in action has won a quick victory for workers at the Ballsh refinery. But this situation cannot be allowed to continue: the refinery is part owned by the government of Albania, who need to ensure that it operates smoothly and pays its workers on time.”
Despite being unable to pay its workers, IRTC recently found €1.3 million to invest in an oil prospecting company.