“They want this to serve as a vivid example for all,” Oleksandr Shershnve, a Ukrainian miner taken to court by the bosses for taking part in what they claim was an illegal strike, told Ukrayinska Pravda Dec. 26. “This is a means of putting pressure on the workers, so that we and the next generation to come to the mine are frightened to fight for our rights.”
Shershnve is one of 94 members of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine at the state-owned Ingulska uranium mine. After ending their night shift in early November, they stayed underground for 24 hours, demanding a 50 percent wage increase and improved working conditions.
The conflict had been building up as the company refused to make good on promises of pay raises and modernization of outdated and dangerous equipment that kept breaking down. Finally, workers lost their patience.
Over the past two decades prices for consumer goods in Ukraine have gone up on average 35 percent a year and wages have not kept up. The biggest increases are for food, transportation and utilities.
After the protest, the company raised wages 25 percent from November and promised another 40 percent in March. At the same time the bosses took the miners to court, demanding compensation for alleged income losses totaling about $51,000 — amounting to $550 per worker.
At a Jan. 18 court hearing, leaders from miners and other union locals came to support them while Ingulsk residents held a solidarity protest outside.
Mikhailo Volynets, national chair of the miners union, attended the hearing. He said the state enterprise wants to create a precedent “that can be used to punish workers who are struggling for their rights.”
“We won’t let that happen,” he said.