For weeks there has only been one topic in Kriwij Rih (formerly Krivoy Rog): the miners’ strike. On September 3, workers at the Oktyabrskaya mine stopped working and have since refused to come up. Currently over 150 of them are still holding out underground.
In the course of the ongoing economic crisis and the war in Donbass, the once important mining sector in Ukraine has lost its importance – with far-reaching consequences for employees. Miners have to live on wages below 400 euros. Therefore, in addition to safe working conditions, they are demanding an increase in their wages to US $ 1,000 and the preservation of state social benefits.
“In the Ukraine there is still a not yet completely destroyed social system that guarantees the miners certain benefits,” says Yuri Samoylov in an interview with “nd”. He is chairman of the Independent Union of Metalworkers and Mining Workers (NPGU) and actively supports the industrial action. Because of the harsh working conditions, female employees were allowed to retire at the age of 45 and male employees at the age of 50 and were given good health insurance. But especially under ex-President Petro Poroshenko, these professionally guaranteed rights were increasingly disrupted, such as early women’s retirement. “The Ukrainian Constitutional Court declared that this step was illegal,” criticized Samoylov.
The strike is met with great support in Kriwij Rih. On September 7th, workers from three other mines joined. Together with other supporters, including the NPGU, they organize solidarity events and a daily plenum. »There are regular large labor disputes in the Kriwij Rih region. The only difference is that this year it will be run much harder and with the active participation of the miners, ”says Samoylov.
A quarter of all workers in the mines are women, they work in the manufacture of explosives, the ore enrichment and the transport of the miners into the shafts. But compared to their male colleagues, they earn almost three times less on average.
Even that is too much for corporate management. In her opinion, the strike is illegal, so she consistently rejects any offers of negotiation from the strikers. For Helmut Scholz, EU MEP of the Left Party, this is a scandal: “The refusal of the company management to negotiate with the employee side and the tough action of the security authorities violate essential ILO core labor standards,” he told “nd”.
As is so often the case in Ukraine, ownership of the iron ore works is unclear. The partner is a mailbox company registered in Cyprus, the real owners are well-known oligarchs. “According to our information, 50 percent belong to Rinat Akhmetov, the other half to Igor Kolomoysky. But because the latter is subject to sanctions and is not allowed to have direct business relationships with the EU, an intermediary is brought in to handle the trade, ”says Samoylov. The opaque ownership structure makes the miners’ industrial action all the more complicated.
Especially since the government is increasing the pressure. “In the past week, criminal proceedings against several dozen active strikers, including myself, were initiated,” reports Samoylov. First the indictment was incitement to mass riots, then the union activist was summoned by the Ukrainian domestic intelligence service SBU and learned that the charges had been tightened and that he and the other strikers were accused of hooliganism. During the election campaign, President Volodymyr Selenskyj presented himself as an independent innovator. But his support goes to the oligarchs Akhmetov and Kolomoyskyi. “Yuri Koryavchenkov, a member of the Presidential Party of People’s People and a former employee of Zelenskyi’s TV production company Kwartal 95, came to Kriviy Rih, but he made fun of the strikers and incited them against the unions,” says Samoylov.
The strikers, on the other hand, received support from the local area administration. It provided free food and medical care for workers. Probably for good reason: there are local elections in one month, so you don’t want to mess with the miners.
The EU, on the other hand, remains passive. “The strike in Kriwij Rih is not only important for Ukraine, it is also important from an EU perspective because it points to the deficits in the implementation of the sustainability chapter of the EU free trade agreement and to the precarious social and societal situation in the country,” says Scholz. In a letter to the EU Commission, the MP pointed out this problem, and an answer has not yet been received.