It has already been a year and a half since we went on strike, as a result of the privatization of our company and the breach of “Market Agreement” and of the Social Programme.
«PE-Prosveta» was privatized on June 25th, 2009. The draft purchase document, that was created before the company was bought, is radically different from the existing purchase agreement. In this document the buyer was allowed to have many privileges which will be explained further in this text.
First, «Prosveta» was sold in an auction for the amount of 3.200.000 euro. The draft contract provided for the exact amount to be paid at the time of the agreement, but this changed later, and the buyer was allowed to pay 30% during the buying phase and the rest in 5 equal yearly installments. The buyer was allowed to sell up to 30% of the estate, even though the privatization law stipulates that only 5% can be sold. The fines for the breach of the Purchase Agreement and Social Contract are 50 to 70% lower from what is required by the law and the planned purchase agreement itself.
The buyer was obliged, by December 24th, 2009, to pay 9 monthly wages in total that had remained unpaid, transference of union fees, severance payments, solve labour disputes, etc. Until that day, he only paid 3 monthly net wages without taxes.
Taking into account the reputation of the buyer as an irresponsible person, the “Independence” union, the Coalition of Independent Trade Unions of Serbia and the trade unions of «PE Prosveta» went on strike until all their demands are satisfied.
We contacted the appropriate authorities immediately. Since the state supports the buyer, no one responded to our letters and our demands. Everything stayed in the field of promises.
Somehow we managed to make the agency that surveys privatizations to conduct research and testing. This took place this year on 2 February. The investigation concluded that there were violations of the purchase contract and the “Social Agenda”. They also discovered that the profits for the last quarter of 2009 was 63% lower than the last quarter of 2008. Normally, the contract would end, if the profit rate fell below 40%. Instead, the buyer was given 30 days (from 2/2 to 2/3). He missed the deadline, and was rewarded with another 60 days. Again he was not able to fulfill his obligations and once again he was given another 30 days. This time though they did not give us any information on when this deadline would expire.
If we add the intentional delays by the authorities and the various control agencies, the buyer has had seven full months to meet his obligations which, in the end, he never did. It is clear that himself supported by the authorities, is trying to thwart the business and its editorial activity, which has a rich and long tradition. The «PE Prosveta» was bought by Dejan Pantovi, owner of several companies working in the field of publishing. For example, «Media II», PE «Rad», «IPS», etc. None of these companies have a permanent staff and he is the director (manager) of all these businesses. All businesses have gone bankrupt and the blocked bank accounts are reaching the height of 1.3 million euros.
The contract term 7.1.7 states that the Buyer has the funds needed to fulfill his obligations. That has been proven wrong. Dejan Pantovic began to exchange the books «Prosveta» publishes, for the ones sold in his bookstores while he was selling «Prosveta»’s estate.
We are obliged to show that the «Prosveta» estate has great market value, due to its attractive location. Also, the Small Business Development Fund, gave the buyer low-interest loans, 167 million dinars in «Media II» and 67 million dinars for «PE Rad». This is a total of about 2.5 million euros. This is an amount sufficient to pay for 585 student scholarships, or two generations of a school.
Chairman of the Board of the Development Fund is the Minister of Finance Mladjan Dinkic. In one occasion he visited the bookstore «Geca Kon» where all the strikers are gathering, and threatened us with layoffs and lawsuits.
Being on strike all these months has not been easy for us. The strike laws in Serbia are very oppressive and the authorities protect buyers. Since the beginning of the strike on January 21, the strikers did not get allowances to offset transport costs, benefits, insurance, etc., provisions that are included in the law on strikes. Trade union payments have not been paid for 15 months. We contacted the appropriate authorities, but again to no avail.
This is the first strike in the history of our company in the past seven decades. The strikers are gathered in the bookstore «Geca Kon» which functions as a bookshop for 110 years, and for this reason it is considered a cultural monument. Therefore we contacted the Minister of Culture, but he refused to accept us, or visit the bookstore. Apart from this bookstore, three more are closed.
The only one that works is the operator. On strike there are 62 employees, and 16 are still working. During the strike, few of us went into retirement, and a few moved to Labour Department since they had a couple of years until they got into retirement. There are currently 54 workers on strike.
During these months we were left without salaries, and solidarity is very low. Only members of the syndicate “Independence” received help from colleagues at the National Radio and Television. This was around 100 euros per person.
The phones in the bookstores and the offices are cut because of unpaid bills, and for a time we were without electricity, for the same reason. All charges for telephones, posters, etc. are left to the two of us, the union leaders of «PE Prosveta», and we have to pay through our family budget.
The strikers are fed with bagels, and try to get transportation without paying a ticket, because they cannot afford to pay, in order to get to their workplace. Many employees are sick because of age, and can not buy medication.
The situation is extremely difficult. We believe that the purpose of all these humiliations is to exhaust us and make us stop the strike.
After all this time on strike, we have no intention to give in and we will continue to fight until our demands are met, because we are confident that there is no future for our business, or even for us, if we are left in the hands of such owners.
Principal confidant of the «Independance» Union for PE «Prosveta»
Ljubica Stjepanovic Muhic
Independant Syndicate Union of Serbia, leader for PE «Prosveta»
Contact: 064/3741915; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The text in greek.