ECONOMY

Government faces demands to help workers keep jobs

The government faces angry employees at several companies that have gone bankrupt, been shut down or taken over by other firms. The employees demand that their jobs be spared. The most dramatic protest is that of about a hundred miners who are on a hunger strike in a mine for a fourth day, 230 meters below the surface and 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the entrance. The miners, employees of TVX Hellas, began their action just before the company filed for bankruptcy in an Athens court. The bankruptcy application was heard by an Athens court yesterday and a decision is expected in about 15 days. Kinross Gold Corporation, the Canadian company that took over TVX Gold, TVX Hellas’s parent firm, announced its intentions last February, claiming that TVX Hellas’s financial situation did not allow it to continue to operate the mine. Kinross had said it might participate in a consortium with Greek state mining firm LARKO, including Aegean Mining Corporation, three nearby municipalities in the Halkidiki prefecture, in northern Greece, as well as the prefecture itself. It is unknown whether this collaboration will finally take form. The striking miners have said they are not going to budge until there are commitments ensuring them continued employment. Haralambos Bekris, public relations manager for TVX Hellas, said that Kinross intended, should the consortium be set up, to forgive TVX Hellas’s 220-million-euro debt to TVX Gold and offer $10 million as an initial working capital. TVX Hellas also owes some 20 million euros to suppliers and employees. These debts were easily accumulated, as in the seven and a half years since TVX Gold acquired the mines (December 1995) it has not produced anything, thanks to virulent opposition on the part of the local population. A government spokesman announced yesterday that employees will be paid by their old employer wages up through April and that the new owner, should there be one, would pay wages from May 1. The spokesman added that negotiations for a new owner are under way. The government also faces a protest by employees at Beauty & Diet centers, less than a week after a new investor had apparently been found, following government intervention. Employees accuse the new investor of violating an agreement about payment of back pay. They said they could not trust the new investor. The Beauty & Diet chain is part of the Avgerinopoulos group, which includes a technical college, and which recently went bankrupt. The 500 employees of Schiesser Pallas, the German-Swiss garment firm that shut down its Athens factory are expected to receive redundancy notices next Friday. The company apparently offered 100 of the employees better compensation terms, which they rejected. The former factory employees once again took to the streets before heading for the Labor Ministry, where they discussed proposals made by the state Human Resources Organization (OAED) concerning their retraining and further employment. On top of that, the government faces demands by employers in the peach canning industry to subsidize their seasonal production (running from April 1 to June 30) and lighten their debt burden. The demand sprung from a late-season frost on April 8 that affected production. The industry, concentrated in the northern Greek prefectures of Pella and Imathia, employs 2,000 permanent and 14,000 seasonal workers.