Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine

Slavery in the “DNR” and “LNR”

Inaugural Congress of the Federation of Trade Unions of the Donetsk People's Republic, 21 February 2015

Inaugural Congress of the Federation of Trade Unions of the Donetsk People’s Republic, 21 February 2015

The report below appeared under the title above on the Facebook page of the Ukrainian association Liva Opozytsiya – Left Opposition https://www.facebook.com/liva.opozicya (accessed 24 February 2015). Tranlation by Marko Bojcun

The Federation of Trade Unions of the “DNR” (Donetsk People’s Republic) http://www.osps.dn.ua/ was formed this weekend amidst all the pomp and circumstance reminiscent of the era of stagnation (the Brezhnev years – MB). Of course, at the core of this rotten formation are the bureaucrats of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU). Loyal to the Ukrainian oligarchs the FPU has agreed to be their instrument of control over the workers in the territories seized by the separatists. So now we can stop thinking about the development of an independent trade union movement in these “people’s” republics. The Independent Miners Union at the Barakov mine has already come up against the force of the Instruction “about the prohibition of registration of independent unions” (http://npg.social/title/275/).

The draft Law of the “DNR” entitled “On trade unions, their rights and guaranteed activities” contains obstacles in the way of independent trade unions: it is forbidden to form a trade union if it has less than 50 members. Apart from that, there is no recognition that a trade union becomes one from the moment its statutes are adopted.

Freedom of expression is restricted: according to the “DNR” law any mass media outlet can have its license withdrawn for mentioning a “prohibited” organisation. One needs to get state registration in order to distribute a newspaper with a print run of more than 100 (one hundred) copies.

“There are no independent trade unions in the LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic) nor will there be” confirms Mykola Koziuberda, head of the Independent Miners Union at the Nikanor Nova mine (Luhansk Coal Association). Koziuberda has fled his home because of threats against him (see interview with Koziuberda published in this blog – MB)

Protests in the “DNR” are criminalised: its criminal code punishes slander and insult of government officials.

There is a “Labour Code” being prepared in the DNR which has a clearly pro-capitalist character (http://lug-rescomroo.info/?p=277). Under its demagogy about “a republic without oligarchs” a criminal regime is being formed which not only violates the right to work, but excludes the very possibility of struggle for the rights of labour.

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Miners demonstrate in Kyiv, warn of further actions

Miners demonstrate in Kyiv on 28 january

Miners demonstrate in Kyiv on 28 January

One thousand five hundred miners demonstrated outside the Cabinet of Ministers building in Kyiv on 28 January. Their demands: that the 2015 state budget cover the costs of maintenance and production of coal and peat mining, including the costs of health and safety, capital construction and mine re-equipment; to halt the closure of the mines; to pay the wages owing to the miners of coal, peat, zirconium and of the mine rescue services; to return the taxes, equivalent to 10% of pay that were deducted from the wages of the miners of coal, iron ore and manganese (http://www.kvpu.org.ua/uk/news/6/3796/shakhtari-z-usiehi-ukraini-protestuyut-pid-kabminom).

Miners carried banners and placards bearing the following slogans: Send the government into the mines!, Give the miners work, Coal to the electricity stations, We demand timely payment of wages, No mine closures; Demchyshyn’s contract is to make 200,000 miners redundant; Hands off the mining laws”.

Speaking to the demonstrators Mykhailo Volynets, head of the Independent Mine Workers union, said the government is now adding to its dependence on Russia for nuclear fuel and natural gas with the purchase of coal and of electricity from Russia as well. At the same time it is closing down the mines still under its control. Buying electricity from Russia at the agreed price of 2.9 kopeks/Kwh will lead to high prices for ordinary people for public transport, electricity, hot water and heating, as well as for basic consumer goods.

The international union IndustriALL supported this action, and warned that the government’s present course of action will lead to at least 50,000 job losses.

January 28 demonstration. Slogans, left to right: "Give the miners work, coal for the power stations". "No mine closures", "Time to start lustration".

January 28 demonstration. Slogans, left to right: “Give the miners work, coal for the power stations”. “No mine closures”, “Time to start lustration”.

Head of the Independent Miners of Donbas Mykola Volynko told the assembled workers:

“ have just returned from the front. Many of our miners are there fighting for the independence and freedom of Ukraine. They asked me to convey their message: if the Cabinet of Ministers doesn’t come to its senses but carries on destroying this industry, which is the foundation of the country’s energy security, then they will start talking with the government in another way”.

After the meeting premier Arseniy Yatseniuk agreed to meet with representatives of the miners and a conciliation commission was established, composed of mine managers, government officials and miners’ representatives. At its first meeting the minister of energy and mining Volodymyr Demchyshyn promised to pay the miners all wages in arrears within two weeks. It was due to meet a second time on Friday 30 January, at which meeting the miners were aiming to persuade the government to take coal from the Lviv-Volyn Basin’s mines that is of the same grade as it is currently importing from abroad. The miners are also waiting for the Verkhovna Rada to re-examine the 2015 budget and to find financing for the maintenance and production costs of the mines. The present version of the budget has made 1.2b hryvnia available for the closure of mines, but nothing for their maintenance and reconstruction. (http://www.kvpu.org.ua/uk/news/7/3800/nerentabelni-shakhti-dovedetsya-zakriti.-ce-stanetsya-vzhe-za-rik-%E2%80%93-ekspert).

Mines minister Demchyshyn was mobbed by the protesting miners on 29 January

Mines minister Demchyshyn was mobbed by the protesting miners on 29 January

The miners carried on their protest on 29 January, gathering first outside the Cabinet of Ministers building, then marching down Khreshchatyk Boulevard and over to the Ministry of Energy and Mines on Prorizna. There they mobbed the minister and deputy ministers of energy and mining, Demchyshyn and Ziukov, who came out of the building to speak to them. Demchyshyn assured the miners that action was already being taken to ensure their wages in arrears would be paid within two weeks.

However, his words didn’t calm down the protesting miners, at which point Mykhailo Volynets adressed them:

“We can see some pluses and minuses here. First, there was a meeting with the prime minister yesterday and we have an authorization from him to the ministers of finance, economy, energy and mining and to other responsible officials as well. According to that authorization they have to undertake a number of things. On the other hand we can all see that we have with us today only one minister and a representatives of the private company DTEK (of Rinat Akhmetov – MB). We cannot be sure that the minister of energy and mines can independently resolve the issue of a timely payment of all wage arrears and debts. There’s no sense in the miners going home with nothing in particular”.

After lengthy discussions here, it was agreed that another commission be formed of three miners’ representatives, People’s Deputies of the Verkhovna Rada and members of DTEK to ensure the resolution of this issue. The miners agreed to halt their action for now, but warned they will return to Kyiv if it isn’t resolved.

KIEV, UKRAINE - 28 January 2015:

Closing Ukrainian mines would be treason, say Novovolynsk miners

Novovolynsk minerThe interview below appeared on 22 January on the website Соцпортал (Sotsportal). It is translated here in full together with the website introduction from the original Ukrainian text.

Novovolynsk is located in western Ukraine right on the border with Poland. It is approximately half way between Lviv and Lublin. Its coal mines lie in the Volynian-Lviv Basin, which is a geological continuation of of the Lublin Basin in neighbouring Poland. The Ukrainian miners have been following the Polish miners’ recently successful fight with their government to prevent the closure of mines deemed loss making.

The miners of Novovolynsk are in the forefront of an ongoing struggle in Ukraine to save their mines from closure. Their struggle is highly politicised by two facts. First, the Donetsk Basin (Donbas), where 90% of the country’s coal is mined, is the epicentre of the ongoing war. Separatist and Russian forces control areas of the Donbas with the most productive coal mines, those which supply thermal coal to electricity generating stations and coking coal to the steel industry. And second, the Ukrainian government has chosen to make up for its shortfalls in coal to electricity generating stations by importing it from abroad, including from Russia, with which it is at war. From a purely military strategic standpoint, these facts call into question the sense in privatising or closing down the coal mines that are still under Ukrainian government control.

In order to understand why the Kyiv government persists in in this policy one must consider also the pressure on Ukraine from the west. One of the key conditions of present IMF loan to Ukraine is for Kyiv to slash government subsidies to the coal mines and to privatise them. And this loan props up a state budget starved of domestic revenues that is now haemorrhaging from two costs in particular – fighting the war in the east and paying back the foreign debt, including the IMF loan itself. Thus the Kyiv government’s adherence to this condition of the IMF loan, which de-facto helps finance its war effort, simultabeously undermines popular support for the war effort.

MB

Miners block the highway in Novovolynsk on 13 January

Miners block the highway in Novovolynsk on 13 January. Poster reads: “The Revolution of Dignity goes on”.

Miners staged protests at the end of December in the town of Novovolynsk They were demanding payment of their wages in arrears and that the local mines not be closed down. This latter measure is envisaged both in the state budget and the Coalition Agreement of the parties represented in the government. The Agreement states that those mines which are not privatised will be liquidated as loss making, while the state budget for 2015 reduces the subsidies for their upkeep.

The miners came to Kyiv in January and met Volodymr Demchyshyn, the new minister of energy and mining. Sotsportal interviewed Bohdan Makarchuk, one of the Novovolynsk miners, about the outcome of their talks with government officials and their next steps.

What did you achieve in your negotiations in Kyiv?

Everyone heard us – from the minister to the office workers. Of course, nothing is decided on the spot. This is a big issue, an issue for the state to address. Because it concerns every region in its own specific way. If the mines go, so does the region. Because most people are employed in these enterprises, whether its Volyn’ or Lvivvuhillia (Lviv Coal) or Pavlohradvuhillia (Pavlohrad Coal) or any other region. The miners in Donetsk and Luhansk, with whom we also met, said: “Lads, you came out and blocked the road, you continued your protest even after the state budget law was adopted . But we can’t come out and block the road, neither in Luhansk nor Donetsk. We have a war going on –no-one drives where we are. So carry on doing what you’re doing, we support you completely”. That what they told us, both the people in the “red” unions and the independent unions. In the “red” unions there are normal people, too.

You mean to say that you are keeping contact with them despite the current situation?

Yes, despite everything, we have to stay together, to unite, not to allow Ukraine to become dependent in still another way on the aggressor-country (від країни-агресора). In addition to ur dependence on them for gas we stand also to become dependent on their coal – so that we buy their coal, but close our own mines and drive people out onto the street, take away their jobs and means of survival.

Did you satisfy all your demands in Kyiv or are you still coming back?

This is just the beginning. The minister, the president and prime minister need to understand that they have to make some changes in their ministries, they need to change some officials for other people, sometimes even with foreigners, God help us, just so that they start doing something. They are starting now. When we see the results of their work we will analyse it and draw our own conclusions. There’s a dark horse here, its called the Coal Department in the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry where they’ve appointed Volodymyr Demchyshyn the new minister and where nothing has changed. The schemes they had there are still in place. That so called “padding” (прокладки) remains. We maintain 300 idle spongers at our own cost in Volynvuhillia. The same thing is going on in Lvivvuhillia , in every region in fact. On top of that there are people in the ministry whose time has come to go into a well earned retirement. They’ve got pensions, they’ve made “regresses” for themselves, they get two pay checks and still hold onto their positions. That’s so they can sit on the revenue streams, manipulate them and get something for themselves. These schemes haven’t changed, its only gotten worse.

But which of your demands have been met?

The head of the Coal Department promised that our wages for November and December will be paid by the end of January. That’s important for people, because many of us have debts on which they have to make payments and to buy a scrap of bread as well.

Have the trade unions helped you in this fight?

Not at all. Both the “red” and our independent unions ignored our demands. All that our unions were capable of doing was to organise the meeting on 23 December ( in Kyiv). But until then, until we came and said that we’ll drive you out of here they did nothing. Only those that were meant to spoke at that meeting. They didn’t give the rank and file miners a chance. Our Novovolynsk branch of the Independent Mine Workers of Ukraine is just being formed. We’re registering locals at the no. 9 and no. 10 shafts. We had a local of 100 members at shaft no. 1, and during the protests we organised 220 men crossed over from the “red” union to the independent union. From now on we are going to announce and maximally publicise our further demands through social media as well as the mass media.

Are you going to do all this with the help of the new trade union you’ve registered?

Yes, of course. We need the union. Its our mission. I know there’ll be people left in the “red” union who are so-called “ass lickers”, who cosied up a long time ago to those union leaders. They have extended families sitting all over the mines. But we need an independent union to defend our labour and social rights.

Did they promise you that the mines will carry on working?

They, they did. And those that are being built now will be completed, that they’ll issue the necessary funding. But we told Demchyshyn right away that we have grave reservations about the local mine leaders, about every one of them personally. But now’s not the time to quarrel, but to unite all the unions. It will be treason, pure and simple, if the mines are closed. It will be a direct betrayal of the interests of the people of Ukraine.

End of Sotsportal interview.

Ukraine will continue to buy in coal from abroad

Translation from Ukrayinska Pravda, 25 January 2015 http://www.epravda.com.ua/news/2015/01/25/523524/

Ukraine will continue to buy in coal from abroad, said deputy minister for energy and coal Oleksandr Svetelik in Zhytomr today. “We are being rebuked for importing coal, which we agreed with the Russian Federation. We don’t have an alternative, both (energy) systems (of Russia and Ukraine) work together. If we were to adapt to Europe then we could be cut away from Russia as far as energy is concerned”, he said. …..

“We are suffering massive losses of coal, so we are going to import it. We will buy it openly, wherever we can – we are looking at all offers. We are buying coal from abroad and we are doing it out of necessity”, the deputy minister noted.

“The energy security of eastern Ukraine remains in a critical state. It was impossible to foresee this situation. We’ve lost access to the ways of getting coal out of Donetsk territory, which is the main supplier of coal for us – Donbas, and today we have practically lost it”, he said…..

The coal miners’ difficult, yet pivotal position in the current war

Mykhailo Volynets, left and Hryhoriy Dotsenko

Mykhailo Volynets, left and Hryhoriy Dotsenko

Mykhailo Volynets, head of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, and Hryhoriy Dotsenko, Independent Mine Workers Union leader in Vuhledar, Donetsk, gave an interview on the UkrLife tv channel on 20 January.

The complete interview, in Russian, is available here: http://www.kvpu.org.ua/uk/news/6/3780/esli-pravitelstvo-ubet-shakhty-i-ehnergetiku,-to-rossiya-budet-prodavat-ugol-ukraine-po-200-dollarov,—volynec

Volynets expressed his appreciation at the outset for the opportunity to speak openly and at length about the current situation in the coal mining industry. The interview lasted an hour and a quarter. Despite his firm support for a united and independent Ukraine Volynets is increasingly denied a hearing on the oligarch and state owned media outlets because of his sharp criticisms of the government’s social, labour and energy policies.

The labour movement leaders shed light on two issues in particular: why Ukrainian government is seeking to close down the coal mines still under its control precisely at a time when there is a dire shortage of coal at electricity generating stations; and how the coal mining communities are coping with a constantly shifting front line of war fighting in the Donbas.

Below is a summary in my own words of their remarks.              MB

Mykhailo Volynets:

There are 150 coal mines in Ukraine; 115 of them are on occupied territory. The Kyiv government controls only 35 mines, of which only about 20 are presently producing coal.

Last year coal per tonne mined in Ukraine cost 800-850 UAH ($65), but imported coal at 110-120$, i.e. twice as expensive.

But while the state paid for these imports, its thermal electric power stations did not pay their debts to the state mines to the tune of 850m UAH. And so the miners’ wages are in arrears, on average by 2.5 months. That is because the energy market consumers owe 4b UAH to the electricity generators. And so the electricity stations are cutting off the power to the state-owned mines, so that these mines can’t function. The cut-outs in power cause grave dangers to the miners – they are often trapped underground; air is not being pumped to them; water is not being pumped out.

The miners have a 2,000 strong rescue force of young men and women to save their fellow miners in emergency situations.

Seven hundred miners and their familie who left the DNR and LNR and resettled in the area under control of the Kyiv government have not been paid since August. Nor have they been allocated housing.

Critically, the government in its 2015 budget has not allocated any funds for preparatory mine work needed to start up mining coal in the new year. For example the Stakhanov mine with 4000 miners and 100m tons of extractable coal cannot start up production. In many mines elementary maintenance work is not being done to prevent them from flooding. As in the 1990s when the economic crisis of those times led to similar neglect, the flooding of the mines in turn led to contamination of ground water, potable sources included, flooding of residential neighborhoods and surrounding agricultural land. Methane rose with the subterranean water and permeated people’s living quarters. In Poltava alongside the fighting in Horlivka there is radioactive material rising with the groundwater that threatens to contaminate the surrounding area.

At the same time the 2015 buget has increased the income tax on miners’ pay.

There are 54000 miners left on state mines.

“I said to the deputy prime minister Kirilenko – you are claiming these are loss making mines; you have got to look at them first…..you are undermining trust in the Ukrainian authoritieies. You are taking us to a social revolt. This is dangerous in conditions of war.”

The government’s intent is clear: the 2015 budget allocates 1.2b UAH for the closure of mines, at the moment to close half of the 35 still under government control.

Hryhoriy Dotsenko:

The miners’ leader at Yuzhnodonbasska no. 3, Vuhledar, says the mine can’t get registered even though its on Ukrainian territory, so can’t sell its coal. Because its parent company is headquartered in DNR territory. This company’s head swore allegiance to the DNR; now he threatens his mine managers everywhere not to deal with the Ukrainian government. But Ukrainian government ministers are also dragging their heels in registering the mine. So that Yuzhnodonbasska no 3 is quietly getting its coal – stacked up over 2 months to 35000t, – through to the purchasers via its nearby sister mine no. 1.

The directors and the trade union leaders at this mine were threatened by the directors of other mines who had sworn allegiance to the DNR, who said they would destroy their mine, level it if they remained loyal to the Ukrainian government.

After festive break shooting has begun again. People living in their basements. Miners did not support the separatists. Rather, they moved out of the occupied territories where hey could and rented quarters on the other side in order to be able to keep working in the mines. Others’ families stay in occupied territories while the men go and rent a room for five – seven on the other side in order to work in a mine, coming back every month or see their families. People are surviving on their last savings – “money saved for a black day, for death duties”. Crossing over the front line is difficult, with several guard posts to pass through, and documents to fill in for the Ukrainian authorities. DNR, on the other hand lets people pass both ways.

Then there is the town of Novogorod on the Ukrainian side, with 15000 population, from where 400 people are fighting in the ranks of th DNR. This town was once in the hands of rebels; the miners’ leaders were repressed. The mine director now stands for the separatist cause. Volynets was threatened by them when he insisted the mine director not play DNR tv at work.

Volynets spoke about the miners who have been threatened and beaten and disappeared, including Ivan Reznichenko whose body was fopund in a salt pit only last week with two bullets in his head and his throat cut.

DNR and LNR leaders are insisting that there be no independent miners union on their territory, That it be prevented from organising there, that there bejust  one union to deal with – the Trade Union of Coal Industry of Ukraine. Recently DNR prime minister Zakharchenko held a meeting with mine managers and union leaders and decreed, with an armed soldier by his side, a reduction of miner’ annual leave from 66 to 24 days and a reduction in their pay.

Mykhailo Volynets:

Other, private mines in Donbas are not functioning because their owner – Yanukovych’s son- is blocking their operation. And Ukrainian officials do nothing.

Coal is standing in wagons in Debaltseve has not been unloaded for weeks throughout the period of a lull in fighting. Coal is being taken off by Ukrainian army, local business people, local residents.

Miners’ leaders have been demanding since the summer that the government load up coal and deliver to power stations the necessary supplies for electricity generation though the winter. But ministers said “we’ll do it once the war is over”.

At the present time Russian government is offering the Ukrainian government thermal coal at 78-80$ a tonne. But when the government has closed all the mines in Ukraine, Russia will demand $200  per tonne.

Ukraine has the same qualityy of thermal coal as that which Russia is offering, and its cheaper to buy and deliver to power stations. Much of it is in separatist controlled territory. But the point is, Volynets argues, the government is not even utilising the coal it has under its control, but rather seeking to close down these mines.

Some of the coal deficit is beng filled by Akhmetov’s DTEK mines whose coal is coming out of the occupied territories via Russia into Kharkiv oblast. Some of its coal DTEK was sending through the LNR to the crossing into Ukrainian government controlled territory at Shchastya until that route was blocked and DTEK lost money.

The Ukrainian government is also importing electricity directly from Russia during periods of peak demands. For every one degree Celsius fall below minus 25 in the eastern part of Ukraine, the government is importing 1000MW of electricity to make up its shortfall.

The government also bought three shipmentsof coal from South Africa, a deal that is now under criminal investigation. It turned out that the first two shipments were substandard coal that would not burn without drying and an adminxture of better grades of locally sourced coal.

Discussions are underway between government and LNR leaders to buy up coal from Luhanskvuhillia in the LNR via a company registered in Kyiv. This coal is needed, says Volyndet, and it should be purchased in a transparent and accountable way. But Kyiv representatives say they will not pay for coal that ends up funding the separatists, a position Volynets says simply disguises the incompetence of government officials, their inability to get payments to the mine managers and to pay the miners their wages.