March 21, 2019 / 3:08 PM / 5 months ago

Workers at Croatia's biggest shipbuilding group strike again

ZAGREB, March 21 (Reuters) - Workers at Croatia’s biggest shipbuilder Uljanik went on strike for the third time since August on Thursday, claiming they had worked without pay for months pending a government decision on the ailing group’s future.

Protesting workers symbolically welded shut two main entrances to the dock in the northern Adriatic city of Pula.

Uljanik, which is 25 percent state-owned and which operates two shipyards in Pula and Rijeka, has been working to stave off bankruptcy due to liquidity problems that began in 2017. Workers went on strike twice last year over unpaid wages.

Earlier this week the government said it would take more time to decide whether to place Uljanik into bankruptcy or to restructure the business at a cost of around 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion), or two percent of gross domestic product.

Uljanik union leader Boris Cerovac criticised the government on Thursday for “dragging its feet” on a decision to restructure the shipbuilder.

“From today we’re on strike again,” Cerovac said. “We’ve been working for 6-7 months without a salary and no one appreciates it. We’re forced to go on strike again.”

When the troubles began Uljanik group had some 4,500 workers, but many have left to seek jobs elsewhere.

Some analysts believe shipbuilding no longer holds strategic importance for Croatia, meaning further state funding to save the dock would be the wrong economic choice.

Some partners in the ruling coalition are also in favour of Uljanik going bust, saying that a new sound business could be started once a bankruptcy procedure is over.

Croatia has spent more than 33 billion kuna ($5.06 billion) in the past 25 years to save and then sell state-owned shipyards, but those efforts have yielded little success. ($1 = 0.8789 euros) ($1 = 6.5161 kuna) (Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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