Moldova sugar workers demand their wages - and their union leaders' freedom
Union members from Moldova’s bankrupt Glodeni-Zahar sugar company – formerly the largest in the country - made the 3-hour journey to the capital Chisinau today to demonstrate in defense of their wages and their union leaders’ freedom. Workers at the plant, which at its peak employed some 500 people, have not been paid their wages since June 2009.
In November 2009 Glodeni-Zahar filed for bankruptcy and operations ceased, unleashing a battle over 2,500 tons of warehoused sugar with a market value of some USD 2.8 million which the workers rightly view as the only guarantee of their wage and benefit arrears.
In March 2010, with the company under bankruptcy administration, the administrator entered into an illegal agreement to sell the sugar to a company called Viktomax Sistem. The sale was illegal, because according to Moldova’s bankruptcy law a meeting of creditors – including those owed wages - should have been convened within 45 days of the formal opening of bankruptcy proceedings. The meeting has never taken place.
The union successfully filed to have the sugar impounded until the court decides the fate of their wages. The bankruptcy administrator, failed to attend scheduled hearings, and the workers are now not even included on the creditors’ list. However, the fact that the company remains in bankruptcy proceedings has not stopped the court administrator from selling the sugar.
To prevent Viktomax from emptying the warehouse, the union established a round-the-clock vigil using trucks to block access to the warehouse. In December 2010, 5 union leaders were charged with criminal offenses carrying jail terms of from 3 to 8 years and placed under house arrest. House arrest was lifted after a week but the charges remain – and the workers still have not been paid while regular attempts are made to empty the warehouse under armed guard.
The workers – many of them with decades of serviceat what was once Moldova’s sugart maker - rightly fear they will lose everything if the sugar is removed and the company formally liquidated. They also reject the use of the courts to criminalize the union’s efforts to defend its members’ wage and benefit arrears. The sugar is all they have left.
Union vice-chair Valentina Semenyuk explains: "We demand that our wages and other benefits are paid and that all charges against our members are dropped. We believe that the Moldova government and authorities should intervene in the situation to solve the conflict in the spirit of justice and law. We call on our sisters and brothers in the labour movement to support our struggle and to help us to put pressure on the Moldova government”.
You can support their struggle - click here to send a message to the Moldovan authorities demanding the workers are paid their wages and benefits and all criminal charges are lifted immediately and unconditionally.