ITUC and IndustriALL intervene as mine worker sets himself on fire after being driven to despair by the authorities’ indifference about unpaid wages.
In a joint letter to President of Ukraine IndustriALL and ITUC called Ukrainian Government “to re-launch social dialog with unions on the economic situation in the sector, on building employment policies, on regional development, on workers’ rights as well as on necessary measures to fight with corruption that cripple opportunities for social and economic development of the country.”
Victor Trifonov tried to set himself a light at a press conference on Tuesday at the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry in a desperate act to attract authorities’ attention to the workers’ and their families’ destiny.
Trifonov, the local chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine in the towns of Selidovo and Novogrodovka, is now in intensive care at the Darnitsky district hospital with burns to 12 per cent of his body, mostly on the face, neck and chest.
Trifonov is one of five coal miners on hunger strike that include three trade unionists from the state-run Selidovugol mines and two from the state-run Krasnoarmeyskugol mine. They began their hunger strike inside the building of the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry on 4 August. Two Selidovugol miners have continued their hunger strike after their colleague’s self-immolation. The coal miners are demanding that the government eliminates wage arrears, ensures that mine operations continue and safeguards jobs.
Mikhailo Volynets, the chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine, an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union, said that wage arrears at the Selidovugol mines amounted to around 60 million hryvnia (US$2.4 million) for the May to July period.
The total wage arrears in the coal mining industry have reached around 935 million hryvnia (US$37.6 million). So far the government has promised to transfer only 70 million Hryvnia (US$2.8 million) on 10 August.
According to Mikhailo Volynets, the miners no longer believe the government’s promises; miners and their families have been driven to despair. Many coal miners have not received a penny for May, June and July; some state-owned mines workers have not received their wages for December 2015. Miners are tired of constantly struggling for their wages through protests and strikes.
Aleksey Soroka, is a hunger-striking local union leader of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine at the Kurakhovskaya mine which employs 1,200 workers and is part of Selidovugol. He said the situation is complicated by the fact that some mines are located close to the combat operational zone in the Donetsk region and miners can’t afford to relocate their families in case of emergency due to unpaid wages.
Miners also want the government to stop purchasing coal from abroad at twice the price of local coal, and to address the occupational health and safety issues.
Over the past few months, Ukrainian coal miners at state-owned mines have organized several protests in Kiev and across Ukraine stopping mine operations.
On 4 July, Selidovugol miners went on hunger strike in Selidovo town for seven days with no success; this time miners launched a hunger strike in Kiev. Miners are going to keep on protesting and miners at Selidovugol are planning to go on strike on 18 August if their demands are not met.
The hunger-striking miners received a solidarity visit from their colleagues from Stahanova mine in Donetsk region, which went on a spontaneous strike on 11 August. Stahanova mine workers did not get their wages for last three months.