Strikes break out over mine closures
In August 2003, the Polish government named four coal mines which are to be closed in 2004, following an agreement reached with mineworkers' trade unions in 2002 on the closure of unprofitable mines. The announcement led to the unions calling strike action in the mines concerned, despite government assurances that new jobs or appropriate accompanying social measures will be arranged for all the miners to be made redundant.
In line with previous announcements, on 25 August 2003 the Ministry of the Economy, Labour, and Social Policy named four coal mines belonging to Kompania Weglowa SA- which was established in early 2003 - that are to be shut down in early 2004. The closure of unprofitable mines was provided for in an agreement reached between the government and most of the mineworkers' trade unions in December 2002. The government had made it clear that its choice of mines to be liquidated would be based on criteria of economic profitability. The four mines named in August have, between them, so far generated PLN 81 million (EUR 20 million) in losses during 2003. The government – again, as promised in the past – will seek a World Bank loan of PLN 1.3 billion (over EUR 300 million) to finance social measures for the redundant miners, subsidies for new employers, and the shutting down of the pits.
The mineworkers' unions have launched a concerted protest against the announced pit closures, demanding that the government meet its commitment to introduce new legislation on the restructuring of the mining sector, guaranteeing social accompanying measures for miners being made redundant. The unions also take the view that the list of mines drawn up by the government is flawed, claiming that not all of the operations identified actually merit closure. The government has countered by stating that, as matters stand at the moment, there is an overproduction of coal of some 10 million tonnes, leading to difficulty in selling it, and that the mining sector as a whole continues to make losses. The government has also assured the unions that an appropriate legislative proposal will soon be forwarded to parliament. The Deputy Minister of the Economy, Labour, and Social Policy has offered his assurance that not a single miner will be left without alternative employment or a satisfactory 'social package'. The chair of Kompania Węglowa, Maksymilian Klank, has stated in an interview with the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper that 'seeing as we are [presently] in no position to sell profitably any more than 90 million tonnes of coal a year, we must reduce extraction to that amount. Otherwise, we will go bust ... All miners who do not take advantage of the social measures will have guaranteed employment in other mines [belonging to Kompania Węglowa].'
In spite of these statements, the miners' unions have proceeded with strike action. On the night between 25 and 26 August, 100 miners at one of the pits slated for closure did not return to the surface, commencing a sit-in strike within the pit itself. On 28 August, representatives of an inter-union strike committee began occupation of the Kompania Węglowa headquarters in Katowice. The remaining mines to be liquidated have also seen protests of various forms - in Bytom, for instance, the miners held a partial blockade of the highway leading through the city. Parliament (the Sejm) has not yet adopted the legislative act which would guarantee social cover for miners, and the miners thus apparently believe the commitments of neither the chair of Kompania Węglowa nor the government spokespersons. They are demanding unequivocal guarantees that promises concerning employment and social protection will be kept.