Miners’ dispute resolved after underground protest

On 1 August 2012, 250 underground workers at Romania’s Botuşana Mine refused to come to the surface after unsuccessful negotiations with management over salary rises. The workers, employed by the Crucea Uranium Mining Subsidiary of the National Uranium Company, were eventually persuaded to call off their protest after 36 hours. Two weeks later the workers agreed to a rise of 15%, almost double the initial 7–8% offered by the company, but half their initial demand of 30%.

Background

The Crucea Mine is located in the County of Suceava in Romania’s North-East Region. It is one of the mining sites of the National Uranium Company (CNU), and comes under the control of the Ministry of Economy, Commerce and Business Environment (MECMA). It supplies uranium to the Cernavodă Nuclear Power Plant, which provides around 18% of Romania’s electric power production.

The number of CNU’s employees decreased from 2,235 in 2000 to 1,783 in 2011. Of these, 600 work at the Crucea Uranium Mining Subsidiary.

The difficulties generated by the economic and financial crisis have led to a series of austerity measures at the site. Miners’ salaries have been frozen since 2009, and some of the fringe benefits attached to base earnings have been reduced.

Roots of the labour dispute

On 1 August 2012, about 250 miners at the Botuşana mining site of the Crucea Uranium Mining Subsidiary went down to galleries 500 metres below ground level and threatened to stay there. They were protesting at a wage increase of only 7–8% proposed by the government and accepted by the CNU. The miners were unhappy that the monthly average earnings of someone with 15 years’ service would still amount to only around €330, including benefits, even after this rise.

On 2 August 2012, the National Mining and Energy Federation (FNME) issued a press release expressing support for the protesters from the 19,000 miners working in the Oltenia Energy Holding in the south-west of Romania. Members of the Federation said they supported the Botuşana workers’ protest due to the poor working conditions in underground mines, and the fact that salaries had been frozen since 2009.

The protesters’ demands included:

  • a 30% salary rise for underground workers;
  • the payment of three €178 premiums during the course of every year;
  • the adjustment of hazard benefit in line with the rate of inflation for the period 2009–2011, which according with National Institute of Statistics (INS) was approximately 18.5%;
  • an increase in the radiation benefit from 20% to 30%;
  • the provision of one daily meal worth €3.3;
  • the provision of tax-free meal tickets;
  • the provision of gift vouchers worth €65.

After 36 hours spent underground, in temperatures of less than 10 degrees Celsius and high humidity, and after protracted and heated discussions with the MECMA representative, the miners agreed to resume work with effect from 6 August 2012.

The authorities promised the miners that, on 16 August 2012, after investigation by the CNU board of directors, and depending on the budget resources, they would meet the miners’ demands.

Dispute resolved

During the time the miners were underground, the Bucharest top management of the CNU saw that the miners were supplied with food and water. The Prefect of Suceava County, Raul Tudorascu, told the press:

...all the necessary steps will be taken to ensure that the lives of the protesters will not be endangered, and that a constructive social dialogue between the parties is made possible.

On 16 August 2012, the prefect announced that the dispute had been resolved following the MECMA decision to increase the underground workers’ salaries by 15%, and the hazard benefit from around €45 to €56. The wage rises will come into effect on 1 September 2012 for all 490 underground personnel.

The workers decided that even if the company and the authorities refused to acknowledge the rest of their demands, they were willing to end their protest.

Commentary

The price to be paid for the salary rises will be some collective dismissals. The promises made to the miners will be kept if the CNU goes ahead with a planned restructuring programme.

This means, says the company, that all workers who meet the age and length of service requirements will be retired by the end of 2012. These retirements will be followed in 2013 by the loss of around 100 more jobs, with redundant workers being offered severance pay.

The personnel cuts are also motivated by expert estimates that the uranium deposits at Crucea are close to depletion.

Luminita Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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