Miners at a number of state-owned Ukrainian mines brought their protests over wage arrears to the streets of Kyiv, the capital, Dec. 16. The action was followed by underground sit-ins and aboveground protests at the Myrnograd mine in Donetsk and the Pervomaisk and Novodruzheska mines in Luhansk. These were preceded by a Dec. 7 sit-in at the Chervonogradskaya mine in Lviv.
The government’s response to earlier arrears actions was to pay miners $12.4 million, far below the $89 million owed that dated back to July. And the state budget included no funds for health and safety measures, Mykhailo Volynets, chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine, told the Dec. 16 protesters.
“There is a shortage of portable self-contained rescue devices,” he said, “as well as a shortage of rechargeable lamps.” He pointed out that the injury rate in Ukrainian coal mines increased by 22.8% over last year, including eight miners killed.
“If paid on time, my family would not be poor,” a miner from Chervonograd at the Kyiv protest said. He was holding a banner that read “Our children also want to eat.” He explained he is consistently paid in installments that amount to only 6% to 20% of his wage. “Because of this you often have nothing to buy with. You have to take loans, and then you don’t know how to repay them.”
Volynets was joined by Andriy Zymin, chairman of the Trade Union of Coal Workers of Ukraine, the country’s other major miners’ unions. He addressed the rally in front of parliament.
Volynets is a member of parliament and had initiated a special session of the budget committee that same day to fight for miners’ families to get paid before Christmas.
Instead, he reported, the committee ruled the issue had to be heard in a full session of parliament, pushing back any possible payment until no earlier than Jan. 22.
Greeting the news with shouts of “Shame!” the miners continue the fight. Some miners say they will start a hunger strike if back wages aren’t paid.