Budryk mine conflict re-erupts

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In December 2004, a conflict re-emerged at Poland's Budryk coal-mining company when trade unions alleged that management had not honoured commitments made in an agreement that had resolved a pay dispute in August. However, the renewed dispute ended when the parties reached a compromise.

On 20 August 2004, a deal was concluded by trade unions and management to end a pay dispute at the Budryk coal-mining company and address all points of contention between them (PL0409101N). The provisions of the agreement were to be implemented by December 2004, but the unions alleged that the management had not honoured its commitments and resumed protests on 1 December.

The August 2004 agreement included a PLN 3 increase in basic hourly pay rates from December 2004. This increase, however, were not implemented, moving two miners to commence a hunger strike in the mine on 1 December. At the same time, representatives of the in-house section of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarność, NSZZ) announced that, if the demands of the workforce were not met, a full strike was in prospect. Over the following days, six further miners joined the hunger strike.

Budryk’s managers apparently failed to implement an agreement that they actively helped to devise in August 2004 because they concluded that the August agreement had been superseded by agreements subsequently signed with the unions (NSZZ included) whereby workers were to receive goods coupons to the value of PLN 1,000 each in December while possible raises were to be discussed at a later date. Thus, the conflict arising in December turned on divergent interpretations of the circumstances in that, as far as the trade unionists were concerned, the issue of coupons redeemable at participating stores and the promise of further discussions about raises did nothing to invalidate the previous agreement reached in August.

The hunger strike was discontinued just before midnight on 3 December following lengthy negotiations between Budryk’s management and the unions. The latter agreed that the PLN 3 hourly wage increase agreed in August should be implemented from January 2005; the company's board undertook to distribute PLN 1,000 in coupons to each employee in January and to pay out a one-off benefit of PLN 300 per worker.

The controversy concerning pay at the Budryk mine may be considered in a wider context. Rising demand for coal has enabled the company operating the Budryk coal pit to post a PLN 40 million profit in 2004; on the face of it, therefore, the unions’ demands that the mine’s owners enable the workforce to partake in this prosperity appear reasonable. On the other hand, however, it should be noted that Budryk has received state aid to the tune of several hundred million PLN.

There have been suggestions that the December unrest at Budryk will not be the last. The State Treasury has slated Budryk for privatisation, a prospect which invariably arouses fears of mass redundancies and which may well put the unions in a militant mood.

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