Anticoruptie.md has recently published the results of an investigation about employees of Glodeni sugar factory, forced to knock at the doors of the courts to recover their wages, even if the law provides that they are among the priority creditors to pay debts of enterprises falling under bankruptcy.
First, media spotlit the case of the employees of Glodeni – Zahar JSC back in 2010.The press wrote that the number of factory employees who had not received their salaries for two years amounted to a thousand. Media widely covered the problem, but the officials were slow to take any actions and gave only empty promises.
Glodeni sugar factory, expunged from the Register of Commercial and Business Entities on 15 March, used to be one of the most profitable enterprises in sugar industry. However, former employees of the factory had not received any salaries for several years. Even if the court ordered the enterprise to reimburse the wages, the decision has not been enforced so far. According anticoruptie.md, the arrears of the enterprise are estimated at 25 million lei. Employees lost their hope to obtain justice, given that wage recovery processes have lasted 7 years and now the enterprise is removed from the Register.
In 2008, Glodeni-Zahar JSC was among the 50 largest enterprises in the country, with a profit of 128.8 million lei. After a year, in November 2009, the enterprise went bankrupt and the factory assets became the property of banks which had credited it. Assets came into the possession of several companies: Marr Sugar Moldova LLC, Gold Crown LLC, Alimsev LLC and MagtVest LLC. In 2010, Gold Crown LLC, one of the investors, he entered into insolvency. The second investor, MagtVest LLC, who bought some of the factory assets continued to produce seasonal sugar until 2015 and in 2016 went bankrupt. Other investors did not hurry to appear, given that in 2009, Glodeni- Zahar entered into several litigations and the situation of the factory was shaky.
The administration of Glodeni-Zahar JSC and investors, owning the assets of the factory, contracted loans of over 500 million lei in the past 10 years. The biggest loans were taken from Moldinconbank that subsequently took over the debts, premises, machinery and land of the factory. In 2010, the employees of the factory wrote an open letter to members of the parliament referring to this bank. The employees complained that Moldincondbank was not interested in preserving and developing the production at the factory and it was indifferent to the future of the enterprise and to the fate of 500 employees.
Open Letter of Factory Employees: "Save Glodeni Sugar Factory!"
In 2013, the press publicized the open letter of the factory employees, addressed to the MPs and the Prime Minister of Moldova in 2010. The employees expressed their concern with regard to the liquidation of the factory. They mentioned that they had some expectations, but the investors failed to realize any, one by one, they went bankrupt. The letter also pointed out the strategic importance of the factory, not just for them, as employees, but for the entire country.
The employees mentioned that they would resort to protests if their demands were ignored, "Dear Members of the Parliament, Dear Mr. Prime Minister, if you fail to hear us, in 5 days we will have to resort to some desperate measures, such as a protest in the center of the capital. For this purpose we have already filed a preliminary application to the City Municipality". ... And they did it!
Employees’ Virtual Justice
In 2009 and 2010, over 500 workers of the factory who had worked for the enterprise for many years, remained with unpaid salaries ranging from several months to two years. The investigation shows that some of the employees managed to take sugar on account of their salaries, but most of those who had no place to store it remained without any payment. The workers who had accidents at work place were neglected too, as there was no one to pay compensations. At the same time, they were not able to work anywhere.Despite the situation with the payment of the wages, only a small group of workers went to the court to elicit the truth. Some sued the enterprise independently, while a group of 82 people acted under the auspices of the factory trade union.
In 2010, the trade union’s request was granted. Then, Glodeni Court sequestrated a quantity of 2500 tons of sugar from the factory stock and prohibited the administration to sell the sugar until the payment of salary arrears. However, the decision remained on paper and has not been enforced up to date, Glodeni-Zahar JSC owes its former employees about 25 million lei.
Judge Stănilă Constantin examined the case of Glodeni sugar factory employees. Now, he is a lawyer and said that the decision was in favor of the employees, but it has not been executed.
In 2014, the case of the sugar factory employees was taken over by the lawyer Andrei Stănila. He claimed that many mistakes had been committed in the process of insolvency and liquidation of the factory that is why the employees could not exercise their rights. He also said that several court decisions in favor of sugar factory employees have not been executed until now.
The person responsible for the liquidation of Glodeni-Zahar JSC, Sergei Bevziuc, representing the Association Alarm, said that part of the salary arrears could be recovered, if they found and sold 60 units of transport, belonging to the factory, but which are lost.
Fight for Sugar
As the sequested sugar was the only chance to recover wages, the employees tried to prevent its removal from the factory premises. But when they tried to block the exit, workers were humiliated, beaten and even imprisoned.
The President of the factory trade union told that workers were lying on the pavement under train wagons, loaded with sugar, to prevent trucks with sugar leave the factory premises. She said that on March 4, 2011, 30 security guards from Alfa Group beat the workers, and 15 of them had to go to the hospital.
After the incident, the employees filed complaints to the Police Department of Glodeni, denouncing aggressive behavior of those from Alfa Group. About an hour later, Alfa Group officers also filed a complaint alleging that the employees had attacked them and they had to use force in self-defense.
Finally, in March 2011, at night, the 2500 tons of sugar were shipped out of the factory premises by rail.
The administrator of insolvency process, Laura Turcan, said in a lawsuit initiated by creditors that the sugar had been taken over by creditors on the account of debts, even if there was a prohibition of the court in this regard.
The investigation shows that Glodeni-Zahar trade union notified all the law enforcement bodies about the situation at the enterprise, requesting help, they organized press conferences, protests, in Chisinau inclusively, but they did not achieve anything.
Politicians who came to the factory to meet protesters would just make promises. The current Prime Minister, Pavel Philip, who has recently visited Glodeni also promised people his support in breaking the deadlock: "They have huge debts, we should clarify why they made such debts. We will strive to find ways to save the business". He also mentioned that he does not want the factory to disappear; he wants to give it a chance to exist and the employees to be able to receive salaries and work. These statements were made in April, while in March the enterprise had already been liquidated.
Criminal Cases against Trade Unionists
Leaders of the trade union from Glodeni-Zahar JSC and Gold Crown LLC, Vasile Guleac and Valentina Semeniuc, were the only ones who fought for the rights of the factory employees. They started the proceedings and won the case for all the employees, they also organized protests.
As the government does not sympathize with the protesters, five activists of the organization were prosecuted in August 2010.
The criminal case was initiated based on the complaint of insolvency administrator, Laura Turcan, who explained her complaint by the fact that transport blocking and storage of sugar by the protesters caused damage to the enterprise. After 4 months, the five activists were sentenced to house arrest.
Moreover, the syndicalist organization of sugar factory was excluded from Agroindsind trade union branch and was involved in a trial process. On October 3, 2011, CA Economica, at the request of Laura Turcan, decided that the union of the factory that has been activating since 1975 does not exist, as it "does not defend the interests of anyone". Valentina Semeniuc told the journalists from CIJM that the administrator tried to discredit the union, so that people would go to court as individuals and would not be able to benefit from collective protection.
Employees of Glodeni sugar factory received support of the International Union of Food (IUF) and of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), who asked the government of the RM to contribute to conflict resolution "by ensuring that all wages and benefits, owed to the employees, will be paid without delay, and in accordance with ILO Convention no. 95 regarding salary protection ratified by Moldova." The two international organizations have asked for "immediate and unconditional exclusion of criminal charges brought against five activists and trade union leaders." IUF expressed support for the workers of Glodeni, even if their organization was not a member IUF and criticized the decision of Agroindind, branch trade union, to exclude the trade union of Glodeni- Zahar from its ranks.
Sugar Business, Melted by Corruption
The author of the investigation managed to discuss with Gheorghe Magdal, director of MagdVest LLC, who in 2010 bought some of the assets of Glodeni-Zahar JSC. This company has also acquired debts and lawsuits.
By the end of 2015, wage arrears of MagdVest LLC were over 2.5 million lei. Magdal acknowledges debts to the employees and promises to improve the situation.
The businessman claims that his company got into this situation because of unfair competition, pressure of energy providers and corruption schemes. "Three seasons in a row we spoiled large quantities of beet as energy provider did not supply us with gas, because we had debts, although other companies with bigger debts were working. There were calls from the presidency and the problem was solved for some companies, not to mention that ministers would lobby in favor of certain businesses. In any democratic country, such situations would lead to proceedings, but not in ours. The manufacturer is being destroyed, but nothing happens. I did not ask for anything from the state. I invested my own money, I didn’t ask for facilities, we asked just to give us the possibility to work, but it was not the case. It is very hard to do clean business in Moldova ... ".
A similar case was registered at Orhei dairy plant.
The investigation was published by anticoruptie.md portal as part of the project "Labor rights violations in Republic of Moldova: four examples". The project aims at raising public awareness of labor rights violations and poor working conditions in Moldova.