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ELMIN invites the Chilean miners and their families to rest on the Greek islands for free

20 October 2010 / 11:10:48  GRReporter
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The story of Chilean miners who were rescued last week after spending more than two months under the ground shook the world. In Greece, the mining company ELMIN specializing in bauxite mining sent an open invitation to their Chilean colleagues and their families to rest on the Greek islands for free. Liberis Polihronopoulos, CEO of ELMIN, agreed to speak especially to GRReporter for the noble initiative of his staff and the mining business as a whole.

The initiative to invite the 33 Chilean miners and their families to rest on the Greek islands is very noble and good. Tell us more about it. What is your offer exactly? Who will pay their expenses? How did you get in touch with them?

We organized a meeting in the mine when we realized that miners in Chile were buried, but alive. We discussed the situation, how it happened, what are their chances of being taken on the surface and what we can do or rather what we would like to happen if Greek miners were in the shoes of the Chilean miners. We are doing the same work in the same conditions as the miners in Chile, so we decided to begin by sending a letter as a sign of support. It grew into an open invitation to the miners and their families to come to rest on the Greek islands.

It should be noted that the initiative came entirely from the staff of ELMIN S.A. The management of the company only supported the idea and helped to establish the contact. I can say that we are pleased and proud that our employees have this mindset and solidarity with their colleagues. As a manager I made sure to establish the contact with the Embassy of Chile to help the workers from the company to send their letter. We looked for sponsors to support the initiative so that it would be effectively implemented and the company also takes a share of the financial responsibility of the initiative.

Miners in Chile spent 65 days at a depth of 700 meters under the ground. Could you describe the working conditions at such a depth and how many hours per day could the miners work under normal conditions without putting their health at risk?

Of course, the miners were closed in complete darkness and high humidity for 65 days. The only advantage they had is that they are familiar with these conditions due to the nature of their work. However, in order to survive, they showed a very high spirit and consciousness, which helped them to stay calm and conscious and to keep their mental health in general during this extremely long period. The normal working day of a miner is between 6.5 to 8 hours.
What happened to the Chilean miners made the world pay a little more attention to your profession. Many accidents have occurred recently, including Chile. This was the second similar accident for many of the buried miners. Accidents are not rare in this sector and most often they are fatal. Tell us more about what are the hazards and the risks for the people who go down underground every day.   

Generally, working under the ground dates back to ancient times. In our country similar are the mines for metal extraction on the Halkidiki peninsula, in Lavrios and in other parts of the Mediterranean region. I can say that mining is an art known to mankind for many centuries, and it has its peculiarities just like any other work.

When you do not admire what you do and do not work in the best possible way, it'll be back at some point, it will even have its revenge somehow. No one knows for sure where the problem is in this case and I would not allow myself to analyze it. Mining, however, is a crucial profession, beneficial to mankind. Miners and their work are providing vital raw materials and high added value. If the rules of the work are followed dangers are minimized. The basic rule to avoid buries is providing two lanes to access the place of work.  

I would like to pay a little more attention to the dangers of this profession. 21 miners perished in China just this weekend. Several others were buried in Ecuador. This number is much smaller in Europe. Could you explain what the most common causes of accidents are? What practices are necessary to prevent them and what is the role of the European Union and the state as supervisory authorities in mining?

I would not like to make a comparison between this activity in Europe and other parts of the world. I do not think it would be fair, nor accurate. I can definitely say that the European Union has imposed very strict rules for mining activities. The relevant body in Greece is the Inspectorate of Mines. It is a public body that supervises closely and strictly the activities of all mines in the country. Of course, there are a series of procedures before issuing a license to operate mines and mining equipment. The company is also required to provide technical study that includes a detailed explanation of how the activity would be operated and supervised. Once the documents are reviewed and the green light for developing the business is given, the company is obliged to operate in compliance with the practices stipulated in the approved study. Mines exploitation regulations is also observed as it includes working methods, experience of staff, rules for action in different situations, activities related with emergency situations, etc.

All actions and rules the law and internal company policies provide are very closely related to security. It is of utmost importance for both company employees and management. A company in this industry has no future if it does not comply with security rules.  

We haven’t heard of tragic accidents in Greece for years, right?  

Look, there are accidents but they can be compared with recent events in Chile in no way. We are generally speaking about employment accidents of almost no consequences. Here in Greece we have no cases of people buried alive under the ground as in Chile or the like and this is, of course, due to the rock massifs of the country.  

Tell us more about your company and its activity. One of the main resources ELMIN extracts is bauxite which is used in aluminum production. How much of your production is for the domestic market and how much do you export? Which are your main customers and to which countries do you export the most?  

ELMIN was a state company until 1999. It became privately managed after the announced privatization auction. As you said, the main production is bauxite used exclusively in the production of aluminum but also in the cement industry. We have about 200 employees in total – 130 people permanently assigned in the mines and around 70 people in administration and transport.

Our company focuses exclusively on external markets as we export about 98% of the production. Half of the export is targeted to the European market and the other half is distributed to the markets of North America and South Africa.

There is much of a talk today in Greece about privatization and unprofitable public enterprises. Can you give us an overall picture of how ELMIN changed after the privatization?  

If we are to speak in figures, the truth is that the company turnover increased eightfold and the number of employees is four times larger than the period when ELMIN was a state enterprise. We hold a leading position among the Greek export companies and I can safely say that the privatization model applied to our company definitely is an example of success. The state could not find a successful formula for managing the company for many years. But the company, however, settled and operates in the private sector. We managed to increase not only turnover and jobs, but we applied innovative technologies and practices that made us competitive on the international market. I can say that we are proud of the results and of what we achieved so far.

If we talk about privatization and management in the private sector it is important to note that each activity has a value and accountability, and nothing is free. The responsibility and concern is greater and the need to prevent the business from different risks is the basis for decision making.

Have the volume of work reduced after the global economic crisis in 2008 and how does the current state of the Greek economy affect your business?  

The late 2008 crisis definitely affected us a lot. It was said that overseas problems could not affect Greece but our company felt the hit quite strongly mainly because it is export oriented. Orders from abroad began to fall down one after another and in a period of significant progress and expansion of the volume of work and investment. At the same time, due to the increased interest and the large number of new orders we had increased the number of employees too. We had to take immediate measures to survive and one of them was to seriously reduce the number of employees. We discharged around 40% of them. We've tried to do it in the least painful and the most honest manner, under the existing law.

After the market improvement, we restored more than half of the jobs lost in 2008 giving priority to workers injured during this period. We want to be honest and hope that conditions will allow us soon to expand jobs to the old pre-crisis levels. Generally, I can say that 2010 is one of the most successful years for us and hope things will go on that way. The reason for success is not due to the fact that the market has grown to such levels that there is a need for large amounts of raw material. It is just some competing companies could not survive and ceased their activities. It left more room for us.

Regarding the Greek economic crisis, I can say that it does not affect us seriously because we are directly dependent on international conditions, which are now relatively calm. We should not forget, of course, that when the house of a neighbor burns the fire can come in our yard.

Foreign or local companies are your biggest competitors?

We have competitors abroad, but the biggest competition comes from companies on the domestic market. The country has large reserves and Greece traditionally takes one of the first places in the export of bauxite for the western world. There are similar and much larger resources in China and Australia, but Greece holds the first place in Europe. Aluminium is a relatively modern metal, unlike the copper industry which began to develop in the period between the wars and made its boom after the World War II. When speaking about competition it definitely comes from other Greek companies.  

Do you think the objectives set by the European Union to reduce air emissions known as 20/2020 (20% less harmful emissions by 2020) will negatively impact your business and the resources your company offers?  

This can not directly affect our business. The question is how much it will affect the activities of our customers that operate in the bauxite processing and aluminum production. Generally, I think the purpose of this campaign is not to reduce productivity but to improve the technology that released harmful substances into the atmosphere until now. I think companies like ours will not be affected by the changes in the medium term. Of course, there have not been established completely effective way for energy production with no harmful emissions to the air and I can not predict how this initiative will develop. I think that neither these who took the 20/2020 decision, nor those who want to implement it may foresee the consequences of this initiative. It appears now that a new financial market was established exchanging the harmful air emissions (according to the Kyoto agreement - author's note).  


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