Zvečevo, First Victim of Agrokor?

By 16 May 2017

The company is on the brink of bankruptcy ahead of its 100th birthday.

Workers at the Zvečevo chocolates, biscuits and alcoholic beverages factory from Požega started a strike yesterday. The reason – some of them have received salaries for March, while others have not. Zvečevo’s bank account has been frozen, and funds arriving at the company’s account are being redirected to employees who have priority in payments. In solidarity with colleagues, the strike has been launched by all employees who fear that the same might happen to them as well. They came to the factory yesterday, but did not work. The union says that the owner promised to make a statement before the end of this week and explain the future of the company, which, many years ago produced the first chocolate with rice in the world, reports Večernji List on May 16, 2017.

“We are united, and the only thing we demand is to have a job. We want to save jobs and earn money. As soon as salaries are paid to all employees, we will begin working again,” said Josip Plaskur, a trade union representative. He warned that most of the workers had been working in Zvečevo for years and that the strike was the only way to fulfil their goals and was launched because salaries for March had not been fully paid.

Zvečevo reported that the payment of salaries was in progress, and that salaries for March had been received by 212 employees, while a solution was being worked on for the remaining 70 employees. They explain that the company is in danger of collapse because its bank account has been continuously frozen for 40 days.

“In order to avoid unwanted consequences, we have initiated an accelerated process of financial and operational restructuring and we are doing everything to normalise business operations,” claims a statement signed by the CEO and the majority owner Zdravko Alvir. The company emphasises that the financial restructuring will be supported by the government, as part of the so-called ''Slavonia project''.

They also add that Zvečevo is only one of many companies to feel the consequences of the situation in Croatian and regional markets. Zvečevo is also one of Agrokor's suppliers, and Agrokor’s Konzum retail chain store owes it substantial amount of money. Zvečevo also used to produce the popular K Plus chocolate for Konzum. However, no one can give a certain answer as to how much Zvečevo is owed by Konzum and Agrokor.

In order to continue with business operations, Zvečevo would probably need to find a new owner ready to bring in fresh capital, in order to settle financial obligations towards workers, suppliers and the state. It is estimated that Zvečevo’s debt to the state amounts to about 100 million kuna. Giving loans to the current owner and some kind of internal restructuring would probably just prolong the agony and would not bring a solution in the long run.

Mayor of Požega Vedran Neferović said that the town had tried to help Zvečevo regarding debts owed to town-owned companies, but obviously the problems are much larger. “People in Zvečevo know best when it comes to much of what is happening to them being linked with the events taking place in the past month. The fact is that the problem exists and should be solved as it has been done in some other cases,” said Neferović.

Prime Minister Plenković, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and many others have said they would help this and other troubled companies in Požega - but there is no help, at least for now.

According to the latest information, salaries were paid yesterday afternoon and the factory will work normally once again. However, the company, which employs 282 workers, is still in danger of bankruptcy.