Trade Union activism is punished in Kosovo

The General Director of RTK, Mentor Shala, has decided to let go journalists FadilHoxha and ArsimHalili, President and Deputy President of the Independent Trade Union of RTKrespectively, as a revenge for their involvement in union activism. This seems to be Shala’s retaliation against the non-appointment of new editors that were openly rejected by the 12 old editors in the public broadcaster.

The decision for dismissal states that “Employee FadilHoxha has been let go and will not be allowed in the premises of RTK as of 26/03/2015, because he poses potential threat for serious damage to RTK”. Further, he is accused of violating the rules despite the warningsin writing from the editor in chief on the issues of abuse of power, abuse against the labor statistics and analysis unit, for giving false evidence of the palimpsest of RTK through social media, inconsistent with the monthly report that was sent to the superiors. "The employee has come out publicly, without authorization, trying to create a negative impression on RTK and damaging its image, a severe violation of disciplinary rules", indicated in paragraph two of the decision.

The same decision was taken even for the editor ArsimHalili. In point 2 of the decision it can be read “the employee ArsimHalili has violated the rule for material and disciplinary responsibility, ignoring requests in writing from the immediate supervisor to be at work when he had editorial responsibility for the newscast”.

He was also dismissed with the justification that “after imposing serious disciplinary measures, he continued with other violations, attacking the disciplinary committee of RTKpublicly, with unauthorized statements, without waiting for the decision on the complaint he had filed against the claims that he had presented false statements causing damage to the image of RTK”.

The quarrel between the management of RTK and the Independent Union of RTK has started years ago, but emerged only last year, when the management of RTK began to exert unprecedented pressure on the leaders of the union. So, the punishment of trade union members comes with a backstory.

Just one day after the testimony of the President of the Union, FadilHoxha, for the investigation on crime and corruptive affairs in RTK during 2014,its management turned against trade unionists by punishing the Deputy President of the union, editor ArsimHalili, who is also a board member of AJK, by delivering the last warning in writing before dismissal, and member of the leadership of the union, BehareBajraktari, with a six-month suspension from work.

Bajraktari was even banned from entering RTK premises, thus making it impossible for her to exert her unionist activity, as reported by the RTK union last year.

Veteran journalist, LinditaAzizi, also a unionist, was punished with the measure of pre-exclusion from work as well by the management Also, according to officials of the Trade Union of RTK, they receive complaints from employees almost on a daily basis, claiming that they are being harshly hindered in doing their job.

According to the Union of RTK, the Management, along with director Shala, has punished, blackmailed or pressured many journalists such as DhurataKaba, ShkumbinAhmetxhekaj, SerbezeHaxhiaj, BlertaFoniqi-Kabashi, BeratMiftari, GentianaBegolli, FadilGashi, Xhemile Gash, etc., but the dismissal of Hoxha and Haliliwas the tipping point.
ArsimHalilitried to inform the public about pressure that was exerted on journalists in the public broadcaster, but very soon, he and FadilHoxhawould be paying for such statements.

However, the director of RTK, Mentor Shala, said that the cause for the dismissal of the two was the violation of disciplinary rules and other regulations. Invited in the TV show “Debat” in Klan Kosova, Shalafaced with opposition MPs and denied that union actions affected the dismissal of Halili and Hoxha.

Halilihimself said that the issue of the new editors was just one of the reasons, but not the only one, for this absurd dismissal, which is the result of the two editors’ public accusations against censorship and ethical violations in RTK, concerns which they also took up with the trade union, along with other issues including violations of work rights, of the Labour Law, discrimination, preferential treatment of employees and suspicion of misuse of public funds from the part of the managers, which directly undermines in the wellbeing and future of RTK employees.

“This is a revenge of Director Shala against us. We are union representatives elected by 400 members and we have a moral and a professional responsibility, but also a public mission, to notify the Assembly of Kosovo, as the founder of RTK, and the public about what is happening in RTK. Obviously, only after we’ve exhausted all other possibilities of addressing the matter within the institution”, said Halili.

According to him, the public service is currently controlled by the government through political interference to the editorial staff by the management, but also by other supervisors. However, the role of the union of RTK is to protect the interests of employees and their rights guaranteed by the laws of the Republic of Kosovo.

Haliligoes on saying that RTK’s financial crimes should be investigated as soon as possible.
“Directors of RTK have given conflicting figures regarding the debt of RTK, amounting to several millions. They have falsified financial reports prepared for the Commission on Media, which was made public by the transcript of audio-recording of management meeting published by the daily "Koha Ditore".

They have violated the Law on Public Procurement and that of RTK, buying foreign television products without tenders; they have hired staff without going through the public vacancy announcement and candidate selection procedure, and there were times when those who were hired after the selection process had been working in the same position before the vacancy announcement was made public. They have also violated the law on public finances, spending without cover or more than they could afford.

Halili also accused for violations of professional ethic in the editorial policy of this broadcaster, and for the censorship imposed on its journalists.Hoxha recalled the accusations for bribery in exchange of employment and for nepotism within RTK. He called RTK an “importing enterprise”, stating that the imports were made for the benefit of the leadership and management.Halili and Hoxha also mentioned many contracts between RTK and different companies owned by the leader, which, according to them, were fictional and suspicious.

Civil society organizations in Kosovo have reacted to the events saying that RTK, as an independent and public institution, should be the promoter and defender of free speech; its management today is promoting the opposite. Thinking differently results in exclusion.

Gur Kalaja
Pristina, March 2015