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Ukrainian coal miners bring challenges to the President

26 February, 2020For the first time in six years, the President of Ukraine participated in the All-Ukrainian coal miners meeting on 25 February in Kiev, and promised to pay all wages owed to coal miners in state-owned enterprises within two months. 

In recent years, miners employed at state-owned companies have taken action to draw attention to their plight by travelling to Kiev for protests, picketing local administration, blocking roads, going on hunger strikes and even remaining below the surface.  

A Presidential decree in December last year provided hope that Ukraine’s coal mining industry could change for the better, when measures were to be taken to pay off wage arrears to miners in state-owned coal mines and prevent a repetition of such debts. 

"Unfortunately, things have not improved, but instead worsened. The wage arrears amount to more than UAH1.1 billion (US$ 44.7 million)",

said the chairman of Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine, Mikhailo Volynets.

However, during the meeting Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, promised to pay off all wage arrears within two months.

More than 400 delegates from coal mining companies and unions, local government from coal mining regions, and the minister of energy, discussed ways out of the industry’s crisis, how to eliminate wage arrears and the future of Ukraine’s coal mining regions.

Ukraine imports coal, which costs tens of billions hryvina (UAH), while state support for domestic coal production is decreasing. Ukraine’s minister of energy, Oleksiy Orzhel, said that he does not see a future for most of the domestic coal mining companies.

Victor Turmanov, chairman of the Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers of Ukraine, said that reforming the coal industry needs to be done by industry professionals.

"There needs to be a coal mining industry state committee in the cabinet of ministers of Ukraine."

The President stressed that Ukraine’s own electricity and coal should be used first, and imports only to be considered when there is not enough domestic production.

"We must create socio-economic opportunities for developing our coal mining regions. We must develop a national programme for the fair transformation of coal mining regions."

The President also promised that no mine would be closed without providing miners with new jobs, and promised to personally visit coal mining towns and draft a plan for their development.