Nine people have embarked on an indefinite hunger strike after the Ukrainian government failed to fully reimburse millions of dollars in unpaid wages for Ukrainian coal miners dating back to 2015.
The protestors, which include five trade union leaders from IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU), and four miners from state-owned coal enterprise, Selidovuhillya, began their hunger strike after failed talks with the Ministry of Energy and Coal on 21 February.
It comes days after 7,000 Selidovuhillya miners staged a three-day strike from 14 to 16 February demanding payment of salary arrears. The action led the government to transfer US$13.5 million for unpaid salaries in the coal sector, of which US$3.4 million US was sent to miners at Selidovuhillya. However, the miners are still owed US$4.5 million. The general debt in wage arrears in the entire coal industry in the Ukraine is estimated at US$18.7 million.
The protestors are demanding full repayment of wage arrears; an increase in salaries in line with inflation; and investment in health and safety, particularly personal protection equipment. Some 18 miners have been killed in Ukrainian coal mines over the past year, according to NPGU.
They are also demanding the return of ‘stolen’ coal reserves, following recent reports that the state has sold off some of the country’s most profitable coalfields to a private company, which is linked to the son of former Ukrainian President Yanukovich.
Other miners from Selidovuhillya, which is based in the Donetsk region of the Ukraine, intend to protest in the cities Selidovo and Novogrodivka.
IndustriALL affiliates, the Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers of Ukraine and NPGU, are calling on the government to enter into serious social dialogue.
Mychailo Volynets, president of NPGU, stated:
“The meeting with the Minister has shown that we are in a deadlock. It is essential to pay wage arrears in full; stamp out corruption in the industry; appoint managers of enterprises and mines on merit alone; and establish an effective social dialogue with trade unions.”
Valery Mamchenko, deputy chair of the Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers of Ukraine, said:
“The development of state-owned mines is possible in a stable environment, but wages must be paid on time. Last year, UAH 2.8 billion (US$100 million) was allocated for the development of the coal industry, including the wage fund, but this year the amount is less than half.”
Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister of Ukraine:
“We urge Ukrainian government to re-launch social dialogue with the unions, and take effective measures to solve the problems affecting the coal industry. We stand in solidarity with our affiliated trade unions and our fellow miners in the Ukraine and support their legitimate demands and necessary legal steps required to protect the rights of workers.”