July 26, 2011 / 5:13 PM / 8 years ago

Albanian miners fast as strike in mine escalates

* Hunger strike adds to 3-week shutdown of mine

* Mine produces 70,000 tonnes chrome ore per year

TIRANA, July 26 (Reuters) - A group of Albanian miners have entered the second day of a hunger strike to press Austrian miner DCM DECOmetal to meet their demands for a 20 percent pay rise and fresh investment, a union leader said on Tuesday.

Taf Koleci, president of the federation of trade unions of Albanian industrial workers, said 16 miners have been fasting for 30 hours now in a gallery 1,400 metres below surface, or 260 metres below sea level. Koleci had visited them.

The hunger strike is an escalation of a three-week shutdown of the mine as its 700 miners press for a 20 percent rise, the opening of a new gallery and better working conditions, Koleci said.

“They are on hunger strike for their demands and have not even had water to drink,” Koleci told Reuters by phone. “I am at the head of the pit. We have not heard new proposals.”

He said the hunger strike was taking place in a gallery of the Bulqiza mine, the richest chrome area in Albania, which he described a very humid, with little fresh air and added that some miners had headaches.

DCM DECOmetal had been trying to negotiate with the miners — it offered to raise wages by 10 percent and agreed to most of their demands — but the strike has kept escalating.

The mine produces 70,000 tonnes of chrome ore per year, and the company has become an integrated producer of 3,000 tonnes of ferrochrome per month since it took full control of the Bulqiza concession in 2007. It is Albania’s biggest employer.

Koleci said the miners were paid on average 38,000 to 40,000 Albanian leks (272.5-287 euros) per month and a food bonus of 500 leks (3.6 euros) per day.

DCM DECOmetal, acting in Albania through fully owned subsidiary Albanian Chrome Sh.p.k., or ACR, has not yet officially reacted since the hunger strike started. It complained earlier the miners were being manipulated by union leaders from Tirana.

Last week the company welcomed a decision by Albania’s Energy Ministry to bar operations by companies in an area of the mine licensed to ACR. These firms had claimed to be its subcontractors but were independent operators, it said.

ACR said in a statement last week it was determined to continue its project to enlarge the mine and follow all the working professional standards put by the government authorities. (Reporting by Benet Koleka, editing by Jane Baird)

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