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Coal mining unions demand comprehensive framework to solve industry problems in Ukraine

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30 November, 2020During a two-day online meeting on 26-27 November on Ukraine’s energy vision and future prospects, organized by IndustriALL and FES, Ukrainian coal mining unions adopted a joint resolution demanding urgent measures in response to the severe crisis in the industry.

Both the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU) and the Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers of Ukraine (PRUPU), insist that a reform of the coal industry need to be gradual, with agreed detailed plans and dates.

Coal miners need to understand the future of their regions and have employment opportunities. Before any reform, detailed calculations with all social partners, determining social consequences, developing social support and protection for coal miners, their families and people living in coal mining regions, providing necessary funds to ensure effective reform and continuous operations of active enterprises, as well as protecting workers’ socio-economic and labour rights, are needed.

Adaptive programs, including measures to diversify the local economy, create jobs, retrain workers, as well as compensation and addressing economic, social, environmental and energy issues for communities, need to be developed.

There should be a clear and transparent structure of electricity generation and a sound long-term policy for its development to determine how long the coal mines can continue to operate and the volume of coal resources required by the state to ensure energy independence and security. The government must ensure effective industry coordination.

NPGU president Mikhailo Volynets talked about the lack of social dialogue at the national level. Wage arrears to coal miners at state-owned mines are a constant problem, which the government ignores. The amount of wage arrears has once again reached UAH 1.2 billion (US$42.1 million).

There is a significant decrease in coal mining from 80 million tonnes extracted in 2013, to 31 million tonnes extracted in 2019, with dozens of towns and villages around Ukraine are falling into decline, as there is no other employment. The lack of a comprehensive state plan on the future of the coal mining industry has negative social and environmental consequences.

PRUPU deputy chair Andrey Zimin called the situation in the coal industry disastrous, as many coal mining companies have come to a complete halt.  There is no funding for renovation and purchasing new equipment, and the old is extremely worn. Coal miners have not received wages for three month and do not know how to survive the winter.

Marcel Roethig, director of FES in Ukraine, said that only constructive dialogue may ensure successful planning and liquidation, and trade unions play a significant role in ensuring a Just Transition. 

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director, said that although, global coal consumption experienced a record fall in 2019, globally coal investments are increasing due to further expansion of capacities in emerging economies. The global power sector has seen a gradual shift toward renewable energy sources in order to reduce the greenhouse emissions. Governments worldwide are providing support measures and have committed to a certain share of renewables in the overall power mix, with Europe and American countries having the most advanced renewable energy strategies. Back in August 2020, Ukrainian government prepared proposals for Ukraine’s participation in the European Green Deal. The challenge for the unions is to get invited into the table.

Norbert Maus from German union IG BCE spoke about the German experience of closing the coal industry by gradually reducing the number of coal miners from 180,000 in 1969 to 4,800 at two remaining coal mines in 2018, while properly planning the close of coal extraction, helping people to get requalification and find new jobs through employment centres. The shut-down process could not ignore miners’ contribution to the economy, so actions were human-focused and left no one behind.

The deputy minister of energy Aleksander Zorin said reforming the coal mining industry needs funding, which has not been allocated in the state budget this year. The government is trying to attract investors and hopes for support from European countries. It is working on a reform concept, and a crisis headquarter has been established this year to develop a plan of transformation for coal regions.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Ozkan underlined the responsibility of the government to address the wage arrears to coal miners:

“Unions have a vision that the government should take into consideration. We see no steps towards a Just Transition in Ukraine; we want to see a genuine dialogue and policy implementation together with unions, addressing the problems of workers. Ukraine needs to deliver the framework of Just Transition, in line with the European Green Deal and involve unions before the country can get any international financial support. We once again call on the government to withdraw anti-union and anti-labour draft laws.”