For the past few months thousands of workers at state-owned iron ore, coal and uranium mines in Ukraine have been involved in a series of protests, including strikes, work-to-rule actions and underground sit-ins, over nonpayment of months of wages and worsening working conditions.
Some 5,000 workers from three state-owned uranium mines in the Kirovograd region at the Eastern Mining and Processing Plant refused to work beginning Dec. 16. They’re demanding “payment of wage arrears that amounted to 83 million Ukrainian hryvnia [$3 million],” Olesia Briazgunova from the international department of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine wrote to the Militant Dec. 21.
That day workers continued “an open-ended protest action” disrupting traffic on some national highways and plan “to spend the night in tents near the road,” she said.
The previous week miners and union officials picketed government offices in Kyiv over nonpayment of wages. The miners are demanding the government pay what they are owed in full and take steps to ensure mining is carried out safely. If not, they warn, radioactive leaks and other environmental threats are likely.
The current wave of actions started when some 400 miners at the Kryvyi Rih Iron Ore Plant (KZRK), a traditional center of worker militancy, stayed underground Sept. 8, shutting down production.
Backed by rallies on the surface by other miners, unionists and family members, the workers demanded higher wages, reinstatement of early retirement, reversal of government relaxation of restrictions on harmful working conditions in the mile-deep mines and the replacement of the plant’s management.
“On Oct. 9,” Briazgunova wrote, “they ended their underground protest after an agreement with the employer was reached.” However, the KZRK bosses promptly breached the agreement on salary payments and sued the miners.
From the Mena cheese factory to doctors and nurses at hospitals from Volyn to Kyiv, workers’ fights over wages and conditions have increased across the country. The Ukrainian government is pushing new measures to close unprofitable state mines and gut rights workers have won in struggle.