The end of an era: Bulgarotabac is ‘killing’ the FDBL production

The end of an era: Bulgarotabac is ‘killing’ the FDBL production

Sadly, the Bulgarian company “Bulgarotabac” will stop its tobacco production at the Banja Luka Tobacco Factory (FDBL), ‘sending’ its workers to an uncertain (financially and job wise) future.

Trade Union representatives the news, saying that employees agreed to receive € 500 for every year they were employed at the factory, in order to put an end to the economic agony which has lasted for more than a year. This means that the FDBL will close its doors forever;  “Bulgarotabac” will remain the owner of the property (of the land and the historic buildings) in downtown Banja Luka, worth millions of euros.

The FDBL is one of the historic factories in Banja Luka and it is linked with the visit of Rudolf von Habsburg, son of the Emperor Franz Joseph I and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy crown prince, to Banja Luka in 1886, when he was traveling through the Monarchy’s states.

Legend has it that he had seen the poor people on the city streets and decided to do something to improve their life. The first batch of cigarettes from this factory was produced two years after this historic visit. The problem was in fact that, in that time, nobody near Banja Luka planted tobacco, so the factory had to purchase the raw material from Herzegovina or the region near river Sava. It was a “social factory” with the aim to offer employment and a better life to those citizens who were lucky enough to secure a position in it.

Now, 130 years after it was inaugurated, FDBL is just a reminder of its past glory. After the 1992-1995 war, the factory worked under very hard conditions. During the wave of privatisations, it was purchased by the “Antonić Trade” company, which also involved several efforts to continue the with the tobacco production. Five years ago, that company sold the FDBL to “Bulgarotabac” for BAM 4,5 million (€2,25 million). In the following years, the company acquired the rest of the stocks and became the only owner. They enlarged the operation with the chain of “Lafka” kiosks where they sold tobacco products and, overall, it was a successful business.

However, last year the first rumours about problems in FDBL were heard. The management tried to convince employees, the RS Government and the citizens that everything is ok, and that there is no chance the company goes down. The “British American Tobacco” company purchased “Lafka” and in an attempt to save 153 employees. After that, the same company purchased all cigarette brands the factory produced, at the same time making the decision not to continue their production in this facility.

Staffers called on the Republika Srpska government to find a solution but, except from empty words such as “We will help the production” and the “Government will buy the factory to preserve jobs”, nothing actually happened. In fact, the leadership has no right to offer any solution whatsoever to a private company, despite the fact that management decisions jeopardise the future of 153 families.

After months of negotiations, employees were desperate and thus agreed to the final payment which would cost the company about two million BAM (€ 1 million)…. / IBNA