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Ukraine: Mine Strikes Spread As Pay Debt Climbs

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13 July, 2005ICEM News Release No. 10/1999

The crisis in Ukrainian coal mines is worsening by the day. Crippled by customers' unpaid bills and by "reforms" partly dictated by global financial institutions, the industry is continuing to default on wage payments to its workers.

By 1 February, active coalminers were owed between 3 and 14 months' pay, the Miners' Independent Trade Union of Ukraine (MITU) reports. The total wage debt to these miners topped 700 million US dollars last month. The many Ukrainian miners invalided out because of accidents and occupational diseases are faring no better financially. They are now owed some 135 million US dollars' worth of benefits.

Desperate times breed desperate measures. Strikes are spreading rapidly, now involving between 20,000 and 25,000 miners each day. About 200 miners have launched an indefinite sit-in below ground. One miner burned himself to death in a protest last December and more have threatened to do so.

"The miners are demanding that their wages be paid on time, that the arrears be paid and that state financing of the sector be increased during 1999," MITU President Mikhail Volynets commented yesterday. He said the country's President and government had reneged on a commitment to begin paying off the wage backlog. If the miners' "legimate demands" were not met, MITU would "lead a general miners' strike," Volynets pledged.

He pointed out that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are pressing the Ukraine to cut coal industry subsidies, close mines and reduce the workforce.

"All this doesn't favour the financial improvement of country in general, and in particular of the coal sector, which is a key Ukrainian industry," Volynets emphasised. "Because of the tough monetary policy implemented by the government under pressure from the World Bank, many industrial enterprises in related sectors have stopped working. This has also had a negative effect on the working of the mines.

"In this situation, social and psychological tensions are intensifying more and more in the mining regions," Volynets warned.

At the global level, the MITU is affiliated to the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

"The Ukrainian miners' claim is undeniably just," ICEM General Secretary Vic Thorpe commented. "They are simply demanding what they are owed. They have the full support and solidarity of their brothers and sisters worldwide.

"We certainly call upon the Ukrainian mines and the Ukrainian government to ensure payment of the wage debt without further delay," Thorpe said. "But beyond that, we demand that the institutions of global finance, notably the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, should at last show some social responsibility. At least part of the international finance that now goes into often harmful 'restructuring' in Ukraine and similar economies must instead be earmarked for the payment of the huge debts owed to those countries' workers. Global action is needed now to right this scandalous wrong."