A strike by workers at Lithuania’s nitrogen fertiliser plant Achema is the first protest action of this scale in Lithuania since independence, said Inga Ruginienė, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Trade Unions Confederation.
Almost half of Achema’s 1,300 workers launched an indefinite strike on February 8th after the company’s management refused to sign a collective agreement.
“A collective agreement, as a piece of paper, gives no guarantees to either side,” Achema CEO Ramūnas Miliauskas told LRT Radio, adding that he does not intend to sign it despite the worker’s strike.
“The company cannot commit to a pay rise of a certain percentage for five years in advance,” he said.
According to Miliauskas, Achema increased workers’ salaries last year by 6 percent and by 3.5 percent this year. It will raise the salaries by another 6.5 percent “when the whole market stabilises”.
Ruginienė described the situation at Achema as “a state of war” created by the employer. She slammed the management’s promise to raise salaries without a collective agreement as “a bluff”.
“In the history of independent Lithuania, this is probably the first such industrial action. Imagine how exhausted the workers must have been to make that decision,” she told BNS.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also urged Achema management to satisfy its workers’ demands.
“We call on the immediate return to negotiations with the Achema Workers’ trade union, and in line with the principles of constructive social dialogue and mutual understanding, to reach an agreement,” read the letter signed by the ETUC Secretary General Luca Visentini.
The letter was addressed to Miliauskas, as well as Lyda Lubienė, the majority shareholder of the Achema Group.
Achema’s workers demand that the remuneration system be spelt out in the collective agreement so that the company cannot change pay at will. Moreover, they call for wage indexation and clear rules on overtime.
Birute Daškevičienė, chairwoman of Achema’s trade union, said that the strike action will continue until the employer agrees to sign a collective agreement.