Polish coal miners expand underground protest against restructuring

WARSAW (Reuters) – Around 200 miners at mines owned by Poland’s biggest coal producer PGG who are protesting at government plans to restructure the industry refused to return the surface on Wednesday, trade unions and the company said.

Some of the miners have been underground since Monday, when the protest, which has expanded to 10 mines, started in two. Other miners have demonstrated for a few hours, a spokesman for one of the unions said.

The unions said that by Wednesday morning more than 200 miners were protesting underground. A PGG spokesman said company data showed 169 miners had stayed in the mines.

The protests in Poland’s southern coal region were triggered by a lack of progress in talks between the unions, the government and PGG management on the restructuring of the state-run PGG, which is running out of money because of falling demand and rising costs.

The unions were also angered by the climate ministry’s update of Poland’s energy strategy by 2040, which contained a faster than expected departure from coal.

The government and the union representatives held 11 hours of talks on Tuesday and meet again later on Wednesday.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party has repeatedly said coal will remain Poland’s main energy source and has been cautious in dealing with the powerful union leaders following violent protests in the past.

But European Union climate policies, which have added to the cost of burning fossil fuels rather than clean energy, combined with the impact of the coronavirus crisis, have pressured the government into more decisive steps to tackle loss-making coal mining.

“Protests won’t help in anything today. They will not reverse the trends and will only make our work more difficult,” Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin told private radio Zet earlier this week.

The miners plan massive protests on Friday in Ruda Slaska, southern Poland, where one of the coal mines set for accelerated closure is based and is a major employer in the town.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by Barbara Lewis

Read More: Polish coal miners expand underground protest against restructuring

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