Norwegian union EL og IT Forbundet helps Bosnian workers to escape “slavery-like contracts”

05 October 2017 09:53


The Bosnian company “UMEL Dalekovodmontaza d.o.o. Tuzla” send 22 Bosnian electrical power line installers to work abroad in Western Norway at the project “Elektrana Vestre Corridor Rogaland”. The workers signed employment contracts, in line with the Norwegian law, with Valard Zagreb a partner company of the “UMEL-Dalekovodmontaza d.o.o.”

In the beginning of September 2017 the client of the project, the Norwegian public company “Statnett”, discovered that the workers had also signed employment contracts with the Bosnian company “UMEL-Dalekovodmontaza” d.o.o. Tuzla”. According to these contracts, the workers were obliged to send 50% of their wages earned in Norway back home to the bank account of the Bosnian company.

In case of non-payment of the obligations arising from this contract, workers would need to pay 20.000 BAM (Euro 10.225) to the employer for costs of damage and additional sanctions that BWI affiliate, the Norwegian union EL og IT Forbundet, – Trade Union for Energy, Electrical Engineering, Telecommunications and IT, described as elements of slave contracts. The workers also had to commit in case of termination of employment contract not to work in the same sector for other employers in the next five years.

In short, the workers were trapped in an uneven situation working on one side often under windy and challenging weather conditions in the Norwegian mountains in the height and on the other side sending a large part of their deserved earnings back to the employer in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When the case became widely covered by the media and the Norwegian and Bosnian public, the management of the Bosnian company announced that it would terminate workers' contract. As stated to the workers, without the 50% the company would not be able to maintain their employment relationship in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Norwegian union acted fast towards the client of the project, the Statnett, and pushed for a solution that would protect the rights of the worker.

When Statnett explained to the contractor Valard about their findings in their Bosnian partner organisation, after a few days, a solution came into place. The Bosnian workers received a new and permanent contract with Valard Norway, and were reimbursed the money corresponding to what they had to pay over the months to the Bosnian company “UMEL Dalekovodmontaza d.o.o. Tuzla”. According to the agreement, the workers would also receive legal aid to dissolve from the employment contract with “UMEL” in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if needed.

“This is a fair solution. We are very pleased that the workers get what they claim and praise Statnett for reacting resolute when the slave-like contracts were revealed," said Jan Olav Andersen, General secreatry of the EL og IT Federation.

The latest information are that the workers are finally free from the employment contract with the Bosnian company.

On 28 September 2017, a delegation of the EL og IT Forbundet and BWI head office visited the Bosnian workers at the Statnett’s workers facilities in the Lsebotn area, where most of the workers were present.

The workers, most of them young, felt relieved and happy with their new employment status.

The workers welcomed the delegation after seeing Jan Olav Andersen's picture on the internet.

All workers expressed their desire to join EL og IT Forbundet and signed up for membership during the meeting.

"It is only thanks to organising workers for their rights, who have been exploited in extreme ways, and the international trade union solidarity that an end to this inacceptable situation could be reached," stressed Jan Olav Andersen.

The workers are very grateful to the union which has backed them and led their struggle. They understood that it is by uniting and joining the union that success could be achieved.

The union looks ahead and hopes that these Bosnian workers, who have now opened the door for an organizing drive at the construction company Valard, will in the long run will sign a collective bargaining agreement. “A collective agreement would further strengthen labour rights," highlighted Andersen.

As next steps, the BWI, in cooperation with its Norwegian affiliate, will contact the competent authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to inform them about the case and demand an investigation of the practices at the Bosnian company. In particular, it is urgent to ensure improved legislation for employment abroad to prevent such cases of migrant and posted workers exploitation. BWI will continue connecting workers with the unions in Europe and the world.