A major dispute is underway between mineworkers in Poltava, in West Ukraine, and Ferrexpo Plc, a major player on the global market mainly engaged in mining of iron ore. All three shifts in the open cast in the town of Komsomolsk, of more than 300 workers each, are now involved in industrial action. Some railway locomotive drivers and workers on the iron ore concentrating factory have joined in solidarity.
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The action started on August 1 at 10 AM when the workers at the ore-dressing open cast pit started at first with a go-slow and work-to-rule. The action began when haul trucks drivers on their way down to the 305-meter-deep quarry reduced the speed of the vehicles from the normal 40-45 km/h to the more safe 10-15 km/h. Excavator and bulldozer operators, as well as drilling technicians, then joined the action in solidarity. Within 24 hours of the workers action, total rock production had fallen by less than 60% of normal volume. This impact of the workers resistance is continuing.
The cause of the dispute was a recent re-evaluation of workplaces which led to the opencast mine workers being moved from the ‘first list’ (which implies heavy-load conditions) to the ‘second list’. This means abolition of a number of benefits:
- The retirement age will be lifted from 50 to 55 years;
- required working life will be increased from 20 to 25 years;
- required length of service at heavy-load workplaces – from 10 to 12.6;
- 10 days will be cut from annual holiday entitlement
Evaluation is done every 5 years; after the previous one, workers kept their ‘first list’. Since then their trucks became older, while the mine grew even deeper. Despite the fact that the certification of job hazard categories is in contravention of Ukrainian law, all legal means to contest it led to protracted and unresolved cases in the courts.
Over the last year, management has used lies and blackmail to increase production rates; however each time rates were raised at the end of the month, the workers were left without their deserved bonuses. To fulfill quotas, truck drivers routinely have to transgress the legal speed limit. Until recently, the highest speed has been 25-32 km/h (depending on the make of vehicle), while truck drivers have to drive at 40-45 km/h.
The company still considered production was growing too slowly. The company used this to deny workers their bonuses. The bonus in question could reach 1000 UAH which is a significant proportion of the average wage (4500 UAH). Meanwhile, during the last two years workers’ incomes have dropped almost fourfold due to inflation and currency devaluation.
Working hours have also been increased from 8 to 12 per day. Also, drivers of heavy haulers (90-136 tons Belaz, Caterpillar and Komatsu mining trucks) are now being officially registered simply as ‘drivers’.
In response to this intolerable situation the industrial action is continuing; judging from the results of the first week, management isn’t eager to look for constructive solutions. With their every step, the factory management has sought to escalate the dispute.
After workers had announced the beginning of their action in the media, the Ferrexpo company press department launched a disinformation campaign trying to refute and misrepresent the workers action. After video of interviews with workers of the mine had been shown, the press began to side with the workers. In response, the company has adopted a new tactic of seeking to enter into negotiations, whilst launching a new press campaign in order to assure the Ukrainian and foreign media that there is no threat of a full stoppage of production at the mine, and that the action doesn’t affect the enterprise’s revenues.
Meanwhile, at a meeting with the region’s deputy governor, workers were invited to stop the industrial action, and a new commission for evaluation would be instituted. Workers, fearing deception, continued their action, and the next day, August 4, the management issued order #1800 by which it has unilaterally scrapped a number of safety rules for drivers of heavy haulers. Specifically, they excluded the rule which forbade overtaking and included the rule which sets minimal speed limit. Overtaking and overruns are the two most frequent reasons of wrecks in the quarry.
The independent trade union People’s Solidarity has written collective letters to the public prosecutor’s office and to the Ombudsman. Management also appealed to the local authorities, and activists received summons to the local public prosecutor’s office. It seems like authorities act as employer agents to intimidate workers. One of the workers’ leaders was fired. Some workers were suspended from work. Repressions against workers are growing.
Now the employer has hired 70 scab drivers from another city and put them up in a hotel in Komsomolsk under the guard of private detectives. Every day, armed with Kalashnikov machine-guns, private guards convoy scabs to the quarry and back to the hotel giving no possibility even to speak to them. (It should be noted that machine-gun firearms are officially prohibited for private guards in Ukraine.) At the moment strikebreakers have not succeeded in increasing production because they do not find it so easy to drive the heavy mining trucks. It’s clear that it would be impossible to increase output without grave danger for the life of workers. But it looks like the employer does not care about possible fatalities.
In spite of this, the strikers are resolute; they are doing their utmost to maintain their action in the face of the intimidation and strike breaking by Ferrexpo Plc. Management, having no desire to agree to the workers demands, pays for publications in the international media on a daily basis, assuring readers of colossal revenue growth. Such boasting is particularly cynical, since everyone knows that this revenue is obtained by the super-exploiting of the workers at the enterprise.
The industrial action will last until full satisfaction of the workers’ demands, which are as follows:
- An increase of wages by at least 50%;
- Lowering daily and monthly output quotas to fit the safety requirements and actual human abilities;
- Restitution of the ‘first list of hazard’ and relevant social and pension benefits to all workers of the mine.
This action is clearly provoked by the employer’s impudent unwillingness to meaningfully negotiate with the workers. Ferrexpo Poltava Mining C.E.O. Viktor Lotous said to workers that they are “clowns” and advised one driver to “change his wife” if he can’t provide for the family.
Nearly one thousand of workers are involved in the action and are losing now approximately 40% of salary due to the underfulfilment of output norms.
The Poltava miners need international solidarity to force Ferrexpo to stop repression, negotiate seriously and secure the workers’ just demands.
Send messages of solidarity to:
‘Narodna solidarnist’ trade union
Telephone: +380 44 2291167,
Fax: +380 44 5298901;
Organise protests at Ferrexpo Plc:
Telephone: +41 41 769 3660
2 – 4 King Street
Telephone: +44 207 389 8300
Ferrexpo Poltava Mining JSC (Poltavskij GZK VAT)
16 Stroiteley Street
Telephone: +38 (05348) 21670
Please send information about protest actions and copies of protest letters to the ‘Narodna solidarnist’ trade union on e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video courtesy of Krasnoe TV