BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- About 110,000 iron and steel workers staged an hour-long warning strike Tuesday, signaling the government there would be strike action ahead if it failed to provide protection for metal-industry employees facing layoffs, a labor official said.
The metal workers' action is essentially aimed at softening the impact of a plan devised by British Steel to save part of Yugoslavia's troubled metals industry. Industry production has dropped 23 percent recently as a result of inefficiency, poor planning and an end to government subsidies, officials said. Workers have not been paid for months.
'We demand an urgent program on solving our problems on both short-term and long-term bases, accompanied by a social program to assist those workers who would be laid off' under the plan, Yugoslav Metal Workers Union President Branislav Sekulic said in an interview.
British Steel recommended that eight metals plants be closed, 50,000 employees be laid off and $500 million invested in modern equipment for four surviving facilities.
Sekulic, a 43-year-old metal worker, said an estimated 110,000 employees of Yugoslavia's 12 metalurgical plants staged a warning strike from noon to 1 p.m. He said workers will stage further protests in September if demands are not met.
During Tuesday's short strike, Sekulic told workers the industry was in a state of 'complete collapse.'
He said in an interview the union wants Prime Minister Ante Markovic to provide $250 million immediately to keep all 12 plants operating until a system is devised to provide unemployment benefits and retraining programs for workers targeted for layoffs.
'The workers are not to be blamed for the present situation in the steel and iron plants, nor for what had occurred in the past 45 years. Therefore, the authorities must do something to help the workers get out of this crisis,' he said.
'We urgently need money from commercial banks, the federal government and the governments of Yugoslavia's six republics to revive our industry and help workers in their retraining. The federal and provincial governments should work out social programs to help workers who will be laid off,' Sekulic said.
'All the Western governments employed similar programs (to assist laid-off workers) when they were solving their heavy industry problems,' Sekulic said.
The federal government refused the demands in recent talks with steel industry representatives.
Markovic is widely seen as working against pervasive political inertian and resistance to implementing reform programs aimed at transforming Yugoslavia from 45 years of communism into a Western-style parliamentary democracy with a free-market economy.
Under his policies, many unprofitable state-owned companies and factories are being allowed to go bankrupt, cut off from the government subsidies and loans through which communist politicians kept them afloat as part of the patronage system bred by socialism.