ECONOMY

Serb road opens after workers and Belgrade reach deal on Bor

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Government and union sources yesterday denied reports that Serbia promised inflation-busting wage hikes to thousands of striking miners and metalworkers who blocked the country’s main north-south highway last week. The two-day blockade of the motorway between Hungary, Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece was lifted late on Friday, with workers celebrating reports they had won rises of up to 40 percent – far exceeding the government’s 8.5 percent ceiling. «The workers got nothing,» a government source close to the talks with the union told Reuters. «I really don’t see what the celebration was about.» The reported deal with 8,700 workers of the state-owned Bor mining and smelting complex prompted charges of a government cave-in that would trigger copycat tactics to extort wage hikes. But the union yesterday also said there was no pay deal. «The government ministers who negotiated with us were adamant: There will be no money for higher wages from the budget,» the miners and metalworkers union vice president, Ljubodrag Cvrkotic, told Reuters. Instead of a pay deal, Cvrkotic said, workers got a pledge of stepped-up subsidy payments and a new bank loan. The government also agreed to find a consultant within 15 days to prepare the company for restructuring and privatization. Former Serbian Economy Minister Aleksandar Vlahovic told Reuters Bor had long been a political hot potato. «We arrived at a point where you had to sack 5,500 people. That requires a political will and there wasn’t any,» he said.