Five-day strike in the coal mines
The breakdown in negotiations on the 2006-2012 National Coal Plan led to a strike in the mining sector. The mining counties of northern Spain have already been severely hit by mine closures.
The breakdown in negotiations between the Ministry of Industry (Ministerio de Industria) and the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CCOO) and the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT) on the 2006-2012 Coal Plan ('Plan del Carbón 2006-2012') led the trade unions to call strikes from 2 to 6 November in the mining areas of León, Palencia and Asturias. The strike was observed by 8,500 miners, half of them in the mining areas of Asturias. The Coal Plan involves cutting production from the current 12.2 million metric tons to 9.2 million metric tons per year. This would involve the loss of 2,500 jobs, leaving the three mining areas with 6,000 jobs. The plan offers EUR 1,000 million per year in direct aid (EUR 400 million), consumption of domestic coal (200 million) and investments in the affected counties (EUR 400 million).
The previous plan for the period 1998-2005 ('Plan del Carbón 1998-2005') was far more drastic. It involved cutting production from 18 million to 12.1 million metric tons per year, and reducing the number of workers from 24,500 to 8,500. This shows the harsh effects and impoverishment which these provinces and counties in northern Spain have suffered, and explains why the trade unions are resisting the new Coal Plan. The dispute arose over two points on the bargaining agenda: the criteria for distributing subsidies and the retirement age.
With regard to the first point, the Ministry of Industry argues that the subsidies must be established according to the production of coal, in accordance with the criteria laid down by the European Union. The trade unions, on the other hand, consider that the subsidies must be linked to employment. With regard to the second point, the Ministry of Industry proposes that the retirement age should be 54, i.e. the 'chemical age' of the workers according to the jargon. The 'chemical age' is calculated on the basis of the real age of the worker plus a coefficient per year of service. The Ministry is not prepared to accept that the real age of the workers should be lower than 45 - an unacceptable limit for the trade unions because of the real age of many miners whose jobs will be threatened by the Coal Plan. The trade unions call for the 'chemical age' to be 52 years, which would mean that in some cases the real age would be 41. They are also demanding the relocation of the surplus workforces.
The miners' protests consisted in cutting traffic on the roads and motorways of these regions, setting up barricades and burning tyres and tree trunks. The protests led to major traffic jams and police attacks on the striking miners. Though the trade unions plan to hold further strikes on 15, 16 and 17 November, both the Ministry and the trade unions hope to renew the negotiations and reach a new agreement.
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