SARAJEVO -- Thousands of miners halted work at Bosnia-Herzegovina's seven coal mines on November 23 and protested outside the seat of government in the capital to demand better working conditions and higher salaries.
The miners, who were bused to Sarajevo from across Bosnia, blew whistles, lit torches, waved flags, and shouted slogans such as “Get out” and "Thieves” while accusing the government of violating pay regulations.
Union leader Sinan Husic told RFE/RL that the miners will continue to protest until their demands are met.
The seven coal mines are owned by the state-owned Elektroprivreda BiH (EPBiH) power company, and employ about 7,000 workers. It is owned by the Bosniak-Croat Federation, one of the two entities that make up part of Bosnia.
The government of the federation plans to restructure indebted coal mines as part of a program to switch gradually from coal to renewable energy sources, and cut the number of employees to 5,200. The restructuring plan, including the retirement of 419 miners this year, was agreed by both sides in May.
But now the EPBiH has imposed new working regulations that violate the collective bargaining agreement, slashing the miners' basic wage to 570 Bosnian marka ($328) from 850 marka ($489), Husic told Reuters.
Protesting miners called for the minimum wage to be set at 1,000 Bosnian marka ($575) while also demanding the payment of pension insurance, as well as the resignation of the mines’ CEOs and the resignation of the head of EPBiH.
“I don't think they should touch our salary, but to increase it by some 10-20 percent. Everything has become more expensive. But they want to reduce our salary. If the miners stop, everything stops," Mukades Hadzic, a miner from Kakanj who was protesting in the Bosnian capital, told RFE/RL.
Husic said the decision by the miners to stop work was an act of "disobedience."
"This is not a symbolic suspension. How long it will last does not depend on us, but on the authorities of the federation of [Bosnia], the management of the coal mines, and Elektroprivreda BiH," Husic told RFE/RL.
When Nermin Dzindic, the Bosniak-Croat Federation's industry and energy minister left the government building to speak with the protesters surrounded by heavy police security, he was booed and quickly left.
Dzindic told RFE /RL that the new regulations were “for the benefit of miners.”
“Applying the regulations would increase the salary for everyone who fulfills the plan. So, if you work and have better results, you will get more money,” he said.