Coal miners in Ukraine have protested underground over the past 15 days to demand months of unpaid wages after 33 miners at the state-owned Lysychansk coal mines refused to leave from their underground shift. The miners are demanding wages they did not receive from June to September 2018, as well as for several months from 2015 to 2017.
KVPU Chairperson Mykhailo Volynets (second from left) visited with coal miners waging an underground protest. Credit: KVPU
While the Ukraine government promised to transfer some of the $10.6 million owed to these miners, Mykhailo Volynets, chairperson of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU), said even if this promise is honored, some workers may not be paid. Cleaners and boiler house workers are among those who will not receive any of the funds, although they have also not been paid for four months.
Members of the NPGU held solidarity rallies at several locations in Ukraine’s Lviv and Donetsk mining regions. Across Ukraine, workers at state-owned coal mining enterprises are owed roughly $28.5 million in unpaid wages, and this month the figure will reach $42.6 million as October wage payments are due.
Volynets, a former mine worker, visited the men in the mine this week and said he is “deeply concerned about their health and lives. “These miners show genuine courage and integrity during their struggle for justice and fair payment,” Volynets says.
“The air atmosphere and air humidity in mine are also a point of concern. The miners are in dangerous conditions at a depth of 600 meters (1,968 feet). These people work in such extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, and their wages aren’t high.”
In Ukraine, a skilled miner may be paid as little as $280 to $320 a month. Ukraine has the lowest wages in Europe.
Ukraine miners have received international support with the global union IndustriALL sending miners a solidarity letter and calling on the Ukraine government to immediately pay all wages in arrears.
When Joe Montisetse came to South Africa from Botswana to work in gold mines in the early 1980s, he saw a black pool of water deep in a mine that signified deadly methane. Yet after he brought up the issue to supervisors, they insisted he continue working, but Montisetse refused.
Two co-workers were killed a few hours later when the methane exploded.
Today, Montisete is newly elected president of the National Union of Mineworkers, a position he achieved after helping form a local union at the gold mine soon after his co-workers’ deaths. After they formed the union, workers were safer, he says.
“We formed union as mine workers to defend against oppression and exploitation.”
Hundreds of women in western Zimbabwe who have waged a week-long sit-in at Hwange Colliery Co. Ltd. (HCCL), demanding unpaid wages for their husbands who labor in the company’s coal mines, say they are set to march to tourist-packed Victoria Falls. There, says the women’s spokesperson, Thokozile Ncube, “we will tell the world everything about the company and how our government has failed us.”
Carrying placards reading, “Five years no pay, but going to work everyday,” and “Enough is enough,” the women say they are not satisfied with the response of a former government minister who spoke with them Friday and said he would take their concerns to the president. The women vowed that if their husbands do not receive the wages owed since 2014 by February 15, they will march to Victoria Falls, some 62 miles to the north.
They also demand the resignation of the company’s CEO, who they say has not fulfilled a 2016 High Court order compelling management to pay workers’ back wages.
The women launched their action January 29 with a peaceful rally and have remained at the company’s headquarters, despite heavy rains. Last week, the National Mineworkers Union of Zimbabwe (NMWUZ) provided a tent to shelter the women.
Several thousand miners work in open-pit mines extracting millions of pounds of coal each month for use by power stations and in iron and steel smelting. Most of the workers live in houses in the mining village.
According to news reports, HCCL has been paying miners 50 percent of their salaries since the beginning of 2016 and last June, the company paid 7 percent of the employees’ 2014 outstanding wages.
Update: Striking mine workers are standing strong despite the Peru Ministry of Labor declaring their strike illegal during a second appeal process yesterday and company threats to fire all the workers if they do not return to work by Wednesday. Construction workers, members of the Peruvian General Workers Confederation (CGTP), announced that they will join the strike in solidarity.
On Sunday, police fired tear gas at strikers as they walked a picket line near an industrial railroad bridge above the Osmore River. The striking workers now control both sides of the bridge, preventing rail passage of the minerals from the mines to the nearby town of Ilo, where there is the refinery and the port. On Tuesday, the SUT-SPCC union is conducting worker assemblies in Ilo to make decisions for next steps.
Some 2,000 miners on strike at Southern Copper Corp. in Peru (SPCC) are meeting with government negotiators again today over issues that prompted their walkout: improved profit-sharing, better medical care, an end to company surveillance of workers and the reinstatement of dismissed workers. (Workers and their families rally in this video.)
Miners’ families rallied in support of the striking workers. Credit: Colectivo Resistencia Sur Tacna
The miners, members of the Sindicato Unificado de la Southern y Anexos (SUT SPCC), went on strike last week after negotiations broke down, halting operations at the Toquepala and Cuajone mines. The union’s general secretary, Jorge Campos, was arbitrarily dismissed in 2016, according to the miners, and his reinstatement is among their demands.
From the United States, the United Steelworkers condemned the company’s attempts to fire striking workers and the decision of the Peruvian Labor Ministry to declare the strike illegal. The ministry argued the issues are not subject to collective bargaining and the union has appealed the ruling.
IndustriALL Director Fernando Lopes also condemned the actions of the company, noting it is part of Grupo Mexico, “known for its violations of freedom of association in Mexico and the USA. Peruvian workers will not let the company do the same thing to them. We extend all our support to the union and the federation.”
Also, IndustriALL General Secretary Valter Sanches wrote to SPCC company president, Oscar González Rocha, to urge him to negotiate in good faith with the SUT SPCC.
The SUT SPCC is affiliated to the National Federation of Miners and Metalworkers of Peru (FNTMMSP), which is in turn affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union.
Oscar Muro, Solidarity Center program officer in Peru, reports on his late February fact-finding journey to the Minera Aurifera Retamas (MARSA) mine, where subcontracted mineworkers, represented by a strong union, won a national labor inspection finding that calls for 2,464 outsourced workers to be moved to permanent contracts. The workers subsequently went on a weeklong strike to protest the employer’s appeal of the judgment and a ruling by the regional labor authorities that MARSA should not be fined for misclassifying workers. The national labor inspection office indicates it will return to the mine in a few weeks to ensure the company has correctly classified miners.
Together with Ricardo Juárez, secretary-general of the Federation of Mine and Metalworkers of Peru, and Elder Villalobos, secretary general of the union of workers of the companies of MARSA, I traveled to the mining center in the mountains of La Libertad to attend the union’s extraordinary general assembly. There, the secretary general told the 4,500 workers in attendance that, following mine inspections, the national Superintendent of Labor Inspection had ruled in favor of 2,464 of 4,000 subcontracted workers, stipulating that they become permanent workers.
Miners are standing strong in their demands for permanent contracts. Credit: Solidarity Center/Samantha Tate
Many MARSA workers have labored in dangerous conditions for up to 20 years, but without a contract. Their “non-permanent” status means their livelihoods are jeopardized if they raise safety issues with their employer, or demand decent wages that allow for a life with dignity.
In January, one miner died on the job, and two miners perished in 2014. In November 2015, there was a deadly radiation poisoning and suffocation incident at the Taurus mine.
Mine is Rich, Yet Residents still Poor
The MARSA mine, 4,000 feet above sea level in the Southern Highlands, produces gold in large quantities and ranks among Peru’s top five gold producers. The journey to MARSA takes more than 14 hours from the northwestern coastal city of Trujillo. To reach the mining center, we had to cross hill after hill on a single-lane road. When our bus encountered a vehicle coming the opposite direction, the vehicles struggled to pass each other on the narrow stone trail. We made the trip to join our co-workers who need us, and thank God, everything went well.
Some 7,000 people live in Llacuabamba, the village where the MARSA mine is located. Despite the wealth beneath their soil, the residents do no benefit from investment, such as proceeds from mining licenses. Instead, their village suffers from poor sanitation infrastructure and is so isolated that residents do not receive newspapers and often do not have access to television because of the weak Internet signal.
Solidarity with Miners
Together with Juárez and Villalobos, we conveyed to the workers that we stand in solidarity with them in their struggle until they achieve victory: worker rights through permanent contracts.
During this journey, we also learned about informal mines in the area, which employ between 3,000 and 5,000 miners. Further, at the nearby Consortium Horizon mine, the more than 4,000 employees have sought to form a union several times, only to see many workers fired. We have much work ahead to assist all of these workers in getting permanent contracts and the safe and healthy working conditions all workers deserve.