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Crystalex glassmakers await uncertain fate

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Crystalex: Crystalex employees don't know for how much longer they'll have work or if they'll even get paid. (ČTK)Crystalex employees don’t know for how much longer they’ll have work or if they’ll even get paid. (ČTK)

Nový Bor – Billa, Penny, Crystalex. Frozen snowflakes reflect cheerful yellow and red light of neon supermarket signs.

Across the street shimmers a more melancholy display: the white and blue colours on the logo of one of the country’s biggest glassworks.

It’s 5:45am and – 16 degrees Celsius outside. While the parking lot in front of the shops is quiet, noisy buses and the hurried footfall in the snow signals the start of the morning shift.

At first glance this morning in Nový Bor looks like any other. But it isn’t. Crystalex, the biggest employer in the region, has just announced it would be halting production. And it’s very possible that this glass kingdom will shut down completely.

The glassworks plant falls under Bohemia Crystalex Trading, which has already shut down several of its plants, as it nears bankruptcy.

What next? There are few jobs

“They closed us down. What more can I add,” says glassmaker Augustin Konrád. He is from Nový Bor, like the majority of the employees at Crystalex.

They face the threat of mass lay offs and uncertainty about whether they will even get paid for the work they are doing right now. At the moment, it’s looking like they can stop counting on receiving their salary this month. No one, including their employer, knows what will happen next.

When asked what he will do next, Konrád just shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. There aren’t many jobs here. And commuting to Liberec? I’m too old for that,” he says and disappears behind the glass door.

Leave us alone! We don’t know anything

Except for a few exceptions, no one wants to talk. Especially not to a reporter. At most someone might say: “We don’t know anything. We are about to go ask what is going on. No one wants to be identified by name.

The night shift, which takes over at the entrance gate, seems to have a better idea about the situation. “They said that maybe on Thursday we are still to come to work,” said a petite, middle-aged woman, who identified herself as Lenka.

She worked in an assembly line at the plant. “We came back from our holidays, they started up our assembly line and now we need to shut it down again,” she says, shaking her head.

She can’t imagine what might happen next. She has two children to support on her own. “I’m looking around, but finding a job now will be tough battle. There are too many people without work now.”

We worked for our wages

She becomes angry when asked about her salary, which she hasn’t been getting like the more 1,200 other employees at Crystalex. “I understand that the banks have a right to this money, but what about the people who worked for their wages,” she says.

“And those who are responsible won’t be touched by any of this. They are all long gone now,” she adds and leaves.

Around noon union leader František Kuric agrees to an interview. “I don’t have much time,” he says. “I need to go explain to people what’s going on, what they must do and why.”

He himself has been working at the Nový Bor glassworks plant for 32 years. He admits the current situation affects him on a personal level.

“People see it as a terrible betrayal, and they are angry. They worked to save the plant, but banks immediately took away the revenue they helped generate. It was CZK 28 million, which would have been sufficient to keep the plant operational and to pay out wages” he says, explaining why the atmosphere at the plant is so tense.

He says the glassmakers of Nový Bor have become modern-day serfs. “By law we are required to come to work, but no one is required to pay us,” he says, pointing out the trap-like situation.

“If they don’t receive a salary in January, they can only give notice in mid-February. This means they can’t receive state support before March,” he says. “And yet, even though they are working for free right now, they need to come to work or else their employer could sue them, demanding compensation for losses incurred because of their absence.

Too many applicants

The employees are now turning to local employment offices and worrying. Already there is lack of jobs.

“I was there yesterday, and you couldn’t even open the door because it was so crowded. That’s why I’m waiting here so early” explains a blond young man, who didn’t want to give his name, standing in front of the Nový Bor office.

The queue starts forming around 7:30am although the office doesn’t open until 8. No one seems to be deterred by the cold. Former employees of Crystalex are among those waiting. “When everything started falling apart, I decided to give notice,” says the young man’s friend, who also refuses to give his name.

He was one of the lucky ones. He managed to find a job in construction while there still were jobs to choose from.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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