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Desperate mine workers resort to hunger strike in Ukraine

10 January, 2019In the Donetsk region of Ukraine, three female employees of the Kurakhivska coal mine of the state-owned coal-mining enterprise Selydivvugillya, went on hunger strike against wage arrears on 2 January 2019.

The workers, Iryna Strykalova, Natalia Mednikova and Maya Lewandowska, were joined a few days later by another employee, Larisa Malik.

According to the deputy chairperson of the local organization of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine in Selydovo and Novogrodivka, Sergii Pavlov, all white collar employees at Selydivvugillya are protesting against the non-payment of wages. They come to the office, but do not perform their jobs.

Workers are desperate as they did not receive wages for September, October, November and December, and were only partly paid for June.

According to chairperson of the Confederation of Free trade Unions of Ukraine and the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine, an IndustriALL affiliate, Mykhailo Volynets, white collar workers at Selydivvugillya started their protest on 17 December. In the absence of any response to the protest, four female employees decided to start a hunger strike.

“The administration of the company, along with the heads of the Ministry of energy and the coal industry, managed to pay some part of wages to the employees. For example, one of the protestors, Natalia Mednikova was paid 2400 UAH (US$87), while a monthly salary for female protesters amounts to 3000-3200 UAH (US$109-116).”

Some workers are single mothers, and in some cases, all adult family members work at the enterprise. Therefore, in some cases entire working families remain without any income for months.

The four women protesters continued their protest even on Christmas Eve (in Ukraine most Christians celebrate Christmas on 7 January), and spent the night on mattresses in a cold room.

In the Donetsk region the weather is cold, with outside temperatures as low as -6° C. According to the union, the room where protesters are holding their protest is cold. One of the protesters, Iryna Strykalova, felt ill. The doctors said that she might have flu, and insisted she end her hunger strike. Other participants also have health problems. Maya Lewandowska has high blood pressure and cardiac angina. She received medical assistance.

“There are some 1,600 workers affected by wage arrears”, explains Vladimir Babich, chair of the local Selidov organization of the Coal Mining Workers’ Union of Ukraine, also an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union. Mostly these are people not working in mines, i.e. non-manual workers, clerks and service workers. The Ministry decided that their salaries are to be paid only from the profits earned by the company, however in absence of the proper investment, the cost of the coal produced by the mine remains high and profitability low. We tried to address the situation many times. One could pave the road from Selidov to Kiev with the letters we already sent to the Ministry of Energy."

According to the Ukrainian information agency UNN, wage arrears for state-employed coal mining workers reached over UAH 196 million (US$ 6.93 million) by the beginning of December 2018.

Earlier protests over unpaid wages took place at the G Kapustin mine, as well as state-owned Myrnohradvugillia.

Alarmed with this worrying situation, IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Valter Sanches addressed a letter to President of the country Petro Poroshenko. In his letter Sanches demanded that “the Government of Ukraine addresses urgently the legitimate demands raised by coal mineworkers in state-owned mines over their unpaid wages and health and safety concerns.”