Inspectors act over foreign workers’ mistreatment

Ljubljana – The Kozina companies exposed for alleged modern slavery practices earlier this week have been issued a ban on working with foreign workers as the authorities are looking into suspicions of forced labour and human trafficking.

Addressing reporters on Thursday, Jadranko Grlić, the chief labour inspector, said the maltreatment of workers, first reported about by TV Slovenija and then confirmed by an NGO helping migrant workers at a press conference on Wednesday, was unacceptable.

The companies concerned are owned by the family of Boris Šuštar, who in the early 2000s was convicted for taking bribes while serving as a state secretary in 1997-2000.

Grlić noted that labour inspectors had already conducted inspections at the companies Marinblu and Selea in the past, taking measures. TV Slovenija on Tuesday reported those concerned infringements over pay, holiday allowance, work hours, breaks and rest.

Prompted by new allegations of severe violations, for which the worker support NGO Delavska Svetovalnica filed a criminal complaint against the companies with the Koper prosecution office last week, inspectors resumed their oversight together with the Financial Administration and the police in late May. Grlić said inspections were also under way since early this morning.

The inspectors have found the companies have been provided with foreign labour force by a broker that is not registered as an agency to supply labour force so the companies will be banned from working with foreign workers. The companies have also been banned from operating certain machinery until they have provided relevant proofs the machines are safe to operate.

Both Grlić and Economy Ministry State Secretary Dan Juvan urged workers to report violations on time with Juvan promising the ministry would protect them.

Juvan also announced enhanced inspection oversight and legislative changes to make it easier to prosecute this type of crime.

He said the violations reported by the media were not just violations of labour laws but of basic norms of the civilisation, which happened daily in third world countries but obviously in Slovenia as well. “We cannot pretend this is a lone case.”

“Companies that apply such practices have no place in Slovenia,” said Juvan, pledging for the ministry to do all in its power for such brutal exploitation to stop.

He said the information and inquiries so far indicated suspicion of the crime of forced labour, one of the signs of human trafficking. This is also currently being assessed by the competent law enforcement authorities. Such an offence carries a prison sentence of between one and 10 years and a fine, regardless of the victim’s potential consent.

Each worker suspected of being a victim of such crime is entitled to support, assistance and safe accommodation. If it turns out they have indeed been subject to forced labour and trafficking, they are entitled to free access to the labour market, Juvan said, hoping for a solution to find another, decent work for the workers concerned.

Rosana Šuštar, director of Marinblu and Selea, dismissed the allegations about human exploitation, workplace bullying and non-payment of wages. Holding a press conference, she confirmed that inspections were currently under way at both companies.

The companies have received warnings by the Labour Inspectorate and have to rectify the irregularities within a set deadline, she said.

The Portuguese broker that provided the two companies with foreign labour force has been asked to register its activity in Slovenia within 15 days. At the moment, Marinblu and Selea are permitted to continue to employ their Indian workers, and production has not been halted, the director said.

Commenting on accusations that the Indian workers had been sleeping on the floor in the plant’s warehouse, she said that this was supposed to be a temporary arrangement only until another accommodation is ready.

Šuštar said that the companies had never received any fines by relevant inspectors, only warnings, which they had heeded.