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Albania 25 years on: TUC education officer returns to report on union progress

Thomas Cook began his career in the trade union world in the Midlands region of the then 
Transport and General Workers Union. He then spent many years as TUC Regional Education Officer 
covering the Northern region, East Anglia and the Midlands in different posts. In 1991 he was one of the 
first Western trade unionists to enter Albania charged with advising the newly-independent federation. 
Here he reports on his return to the country in March
Cook, T.

 In September 1991 I was asked by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (now ITUC) to visit Albania to carry out development work with the newly formed independent trade union BSPSH. My first visit was largely taken up by a series of seminars for reps. in the town of Durres. Over 200 members were in attendance. The seminars covered trade union organisation and activity in the UK, Germany and the USA. In February 1992 I visited again and toured the southern part of the country when meetings were held with BSPSH members to discuss the subject of ‘Trade Unions and the political process’. I was invited to participate in the 25th anniversary of the union in March 2016. The following is a summary of discussions, mainly with the union’s International Relations Officer and its Organisation Department.

General political situation

When I visited in 1991 the Communist Party had been victorious in the first ‘free’ election to be held. The situation was, however, still volatile with mass protests still occurring demanding democratic changes and a free market. A second election was held in March 1992, won by the recently formed Democratic Party. Since then they have held power in alternation with the Socialist Party (seen as a continuation of the Communist regime) or coalitions led by either party. Today the Socialist Party rules in alliance with the Socialist Movement for Integration. The next election will be held in 2017.


When central planning was abandoned there was no effective mechanism to take its place. GDP fell by 45% during 1990-92. Prices were freed and inflation shot up to 226% in 1992. Unemployment peaked in 1992 at 26%. The economy improved as Albania entered the 21st century: inflation was relatively low, there was expansion in the transport, service and construction sectors, and foreign investment was growing. The global financial crisis had a serious effect on Albania with a drastic reduction in remittances from citizens working abroad (15.6% of GDP in 2003), decrease in import/export, withdrawal of foreign investors and businesses closing due to declining spending power associated with rising unemployment. At the end of 2015 17.5% of a workforce numbering 1,289,972 were unemployed.


Trade Union Organisation

ITUC has two affiliates in Albania, BSPSH and KSSH. There are also a small number of independent unions that are unaffiliated. BSPSH claim to have 82,500 members (around 37% are women) Over the last 25 years membership has increased by about 10,000. 80% of BSPSH members work in the public sector. KSSH claim to have 105,000 members (around 43% women). Each federation has both sector and territorial structures as well as sections for women and young workers. They are funded by individual membership fees with some income from the lease of property. There are some tensions between them, mainly because of their support for the two main political parties (BSPSH – Democratic Party and KSSH – Socialist Party). The BSPSH approach now is to support parties whose programmes align with its interests although it regards the Socialists as favouring KSSH as the ‘heirs to the communist dictatorship’. There have been examples of cooperation between the two federations notably on pension reform when a shared trade union proposal was presented and adopted by the government. There has also been dialogue and some agreement on employment growth, combating the informal economy, for decent work and employment of young people. Both favour EU membership but BSPSH opinion is that Albania is many years away from meeting the conditions for membership. As social partners the federations are represented on the National Labour Council. In 2001 the premises of both BSPSH and KSSH were seized by the government with union property and documents being destroyed (see issue 40). They have never received compensation for this.

Health and Safety at Work

Health and safety laws have been strengthened over the last 25 years, especially in accordance with EU directives, but enforcement of legislation still appears to be problematic. More modern manufacturing technologies have resulted in some improved working conditions. However statistics and accident and disease reports are hard to come by. There have been several internationally funded programmes aimed at developing expertise in health and safety and BSPSH has been active in trying to establish both reps. and committees in workplaces where it is organised.

A certificate and medal presented to Tom Cook by the Albanian trade union federation



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