Man cut off finger to protest overdue wages

BELGRADE Mon Apr 27, 2009 1:58pm EDT

A man looks at price tags in government-backed social SOS discount supermarket in Belgrade, March 31, 2009. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

A man looks at price tags in government-backed social SOS discount supermarket in Belgrade, March 31, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Marko Djurica

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BELGRADE (Reuters) - A Serbian union official who chopped off his finger and ate it in a protest over wages that in some cases have not been paid in years, said Monday he did it to show how desperate he and other workers were.

"We, the workers have nothing to eat, we had to seek some sort of alternative food and I gave them an example," Zoran Bulatovic told Reuters. "It hurt like hell."

Bulatovic, a union leader at the Raska Holding textile factory in Novi Pazar in southwest Serbia, used a hacksaw to cut off most of his left-hand little finger Friday.

Bulatovic said he decided to act after his deputy, "a single mother of three, was the first to say she would cut off her finger. I could not allow her to do that," he said.

State-owned Raska Holding was a major textile producer in the late 1980s with a workforce of 4,000. It suffered during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and a loss of markets and mismanagement during a decade of wars and sanctions led to massive job cuts, leaving the company with just 100 workers.

Some employees have not been paid for years, only collecting social benefits, like free medical care.

About two dozen workers went on a 19-day hunger strike last year. They want the company's debt to be swapped for state-held equity and a welfare program for those nearing retirement.

Bulatovic said his comrades will not back down from their demands, but they will postpone planned self-mutilations at least until talks with government officials in Belgrade expected Tuesday.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Gordana Filipovic and Matthew Jones)

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