Dispute ends at Budryk coal mine

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In August 2004, a deal was concluded to end a pay dispute at Poland's Budryk coal-mining company, following discussions in the Silesia Regional Social Dialogue Commission. The conflict had seen differences of opinion between various trade unions, a warning strike and threats of a full-stage stoppage.

A number of pay disputes hit Poland's coal-mining industry during summer 2004 (PL0408101N). One was at the independent Budryk Coal Mine Joint-Stock Company (Kopalnia Węgla Kamiennego Budryk SA, KWK Budryk) in Ornontowice.

On 12 July, seven of the trade unions represented at the mine agreed with management that each miner should receive a PLN 100 cash bonus and PLN 600 in vouchers in August, with the potential value of further vouchers to be distributed by the end of 2004 possibly reaching PLN 1,500 (gross). However the two remaining unions active at Budryk - the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarność, NSZZ Solidarność) and the Alliance of Trade Unions 'Kadra' (Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych Kadra, PZZ Kadra) - did not sign up to this agreement, dismissing the terms proposed by the management as unsatisfactory. These two unions were demanding meal coupons worth PLN 10 a day for every employee and a PLN 4 increase in basic hourly wage rates from October 2004. While the Budryk workers receive on-the-job meals to the value of PLN 10, union officials maintain that the actual value is lower because the PLN 10 includes the margin of an external catering company that prepares the meals. Accordingly, the unions - pointing to the solution employed at some other mines - suggested that employees receive meal coupons with a nominal value of PLN 10 a day, redeemable at cooperating stores.

On 16 July, a referendum on a possible strike was held among the workforce, and 87% of those voting were in favour. Accordingly, the mine went on 'strike stand-by' on 20 July. With management not making any move to concede the NSZZ Solidarność and PZZ Kadra proposals, the unions held a two-hour warning protest on 16 August and planned a full strike for 23 August.

Worried by the escalating tension at Budryk, Jerzy Kulesza, the chair of the regional board of the Trade Union Forum (Forum Związków Zawodowych, FZZ) (PL0212109F), applied to the regional authorities of Silesia to hold an extraordinary session of the presidium of the Regional Social Dialogue Commission (PL0307105F). This motion was seconded by Piotr Duda, head of the NSZZ Solidarność organisation in the Silesia and Dąbrowa region, and by Henryk Moskwa, chair of the regional organisation of the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ). A presidium session was duly held on 19 August. The meeting was attended by Jacek Piechota, the Deputy Minister of the Economy, who argued that the looming strike would inevitably lead to deterioration of Budryk’s financial standing. Mr Piechota also pointed out that Budryk is the beneficiary of a public aid package worth in excess of PLN 500 million and that, accordingly, it is obliged to address primarily its liabilities of a public law nature (taxes, social insurance contributions etc), with remuneration of staff a distant second on the list of priorities.

The ensuing discussion yielded a compromise between Budryk’s management and the unions, which was signed on 20 August. This provides that:

  • from December 2004, basic wages will be increased by PLN 3 an hour; and
  • if pay increases based on an indexation scheme in 2005 do not exceed 4.7%, the parties will re-evaluate the provisions of the deal and possibly amend them.

At the same time, the Minister of the Economy and Labour pledged to convene, by 23 August, a team of experts to investigate allegations levelled against Budryk’s managers by the unions. The unions claim that the mine’s directors are guilty of gross mismanagement and of neglecting health and safety rules.

Commentators suggest that, in their recent round of wage demands, the miners’ unions have been emboldened by growing demand for hard coal, which translates into high prices on the world markets and improved financial results for at least some Polish mines. They argue that it will be of critical importance that coal mining companies do not let these favourable market conditions lull them into excessive optimism, leading them to neglect the restructuring programmes now underway (PL0310103F and PL0309101F).

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