SOFIA, Bulgaria — Several hundred workers at Bulgaria’s state-owned defense giant VMZ Sopot went on strike Dec. 13, demanding months of unpaid salaries amid efforts to privatize the company, trade unions said.
“We cannot live without money. We insist on getting the salaries that we are due,” Ivanka Ivanova, head of local union KNSB, told state BNR radio.
Striking workers, who shouted “Resign!” outside the plant’s management building, told the station that they last received money in September — a lump sum that came down to 60 leva (30 euros, $40) per person when divided up between the workers.
VMZ Chief Executive Ivan Stoenchev admitted Dec. 13 that the plant owed 2.3 million leva in pay to its 3,100 workers, on top of unpaid social security and health installments and debts to suppliers.
“We will try to find some money for salaries by the end of the week,” he told BNR, urging the workers to go back to work.
Bulgaria’s biggest defense firm, VMZ is awaiting privatization, but only one company is expected to table a bid in the public tender.
The last state-owned company of Bulgaria’s once booming communist-era defense industry, VMZ is a far cry from its former glory but still produces a large range of missiles and artillery ammunition, as well as civil-use machinery and household appliances.
Lack of strategic investors in previous defense company tenders led other state-owned firms to morph into joint-stock companies, owned primarily by their managers and staff.
Bulgaria’s defense industry exports stood at 300 million euros in 2011, according to the economy ministry.