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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Delaying Talks, Unions Charge

As strikes broke out across northern Russia and the Urals on Monday, union officials charged that the government had used delaying tactics to drag out negotiations on the eve of the Dec. 12 elections.

Vladimir Bodyagin, a member of the Miner's Independent Union Council of Representatives, said in a telephone interview that 12 of Vorkuta's 13 mines and two mines in Chelyabinsk stopped work. The coal miners were joined by five metal mines in the North Urals and the arctic city of Norilsk.

Bodyagin said union leaders suspected that the government had delayed talks deliberately to have the union call off the strike without documenting the promises it made.

"Government clerks have done everything to delay the talks", Bodyagin said. "They would edit the agreements just before they were to be signed, or make mistakes in the copies".

First deputy prime minister Yegor Gaidar made concessions last weekend to the union's demands to increase budget spendings for the industry and guarantee punctual payments of wages.

Bodyagin said that he had not yet seen the documents signed by Gaidar but the strikers would go back to work as soon as the signed documents arrived at the union's headquarters. He added that more pits could join the strike if there were further delays.

Interfax reported late Monday that Gaidar and miner's leaders had signed an agreement to suspend the strike from the first shift on Tuesday. The news agency, however, gave no details of the agreement.

Yury Shatyrenko, the deputy labor minister who led the government's negotiating team, earlier criticized the strike, saying that the leaders of the miner's union were trying to score points for their own election campaign.

Two of the union's leaders, chairman Alexander Sergeyev and the Kuzbass leader Sagali Sharipov, are standing in the Dec. 12 elections on the list of the Russian Democratic Reform Movement, according to union spokesmen.

"They are simply trying to show their strength", Shatyrenko said. "I can see no other reason for this strike to happen after we have settled all the problems".

Bodyagin denied that the miner's leaders were taking advantage of the up-coming elections, saying that the union has pressed the demands since February.

Shatyrenko refuted the allegation that the government's concessions to the miners were an effort by Gaidar, who is also leader of the Russia's Choice bloc, to boost his popularity in mining regions.

Shatyrenko said that the strike could cause difficulties for Russia's heating systems in the winter which is expected to be colder than usual.

"Every 1 centigrade drop below the average seasonal temperature costs 2 million tons of coal for additional heating", Shatyrenko said. "If the weather forecast is right, we are going to have to use 12 to 15 million tons more this year".