Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trouble Reemerges in Coal Industry

Unpaid Russian coal workers are threatening to cut supplies again to force consumers to pay their debts, while the government is planning to limit coal output this year to enterprises that can guarantee wages, according to union and government spokesmen.

Support staff in the northern mining region of Vorkuta continued striking for a fifth day Friday to protest nonpayment of wages due to coal consumers' insolvency, said Sultan Mamedov, deputy chairman of the Miners' Independent Union.

The coal miners' union at the open cut Borodino mine in Krasnoyarsky region, is to decide on the weekend whether to stop delivery of coal to its customers which owe the company a total of 60 billion rubles, Vitaly Budko, the leader of the larger Russian Independent Coal Workers' Union, said Friday.

Budko said the local union had canceled its original plan to begin the strike on Friday after the regional energy workers threatened to turn off heat in the miners' settlements as a retaliatory measure.

Borodino is the largest coal producer in Russia. It is totally self-financed and receives no government subsidies, according to Nikolai Antonov, a labor official at the Russian Coal Co.

A group of Labor Ministry negotiators have flown to the mine to resolve the dispute with the workers, Antonov said, adding that he expected the union to lift the strike threat altogether.

Alexander Yevtushenko, the deputy fuel and energy minister responsible for the coal industry, said Thursday the government plans to narrow the gap between Russia's excessive coal production and much lower demand.

He said the Economics Ministry has calculated that enterprises will be able to pay for about 260 million tons of coal this year, or about 30 million tons less than was produced in 1993.

However, Yevtushenko said the government cannot cut supplies to all insolvent customers because that would affect large groups of workers and residents in the vicinity of such companies.

The government is also likely to approve a list of loss-making mines slated for closure by the year 2,000, according to Boris Azimov, an expert for the Russian Coal Co., which manages state shares in the industry.

Azimov said the final list, which now contains 38 pits, compared to 42 proposed for closure originally, will be submitted to the government as soon as it is formed.

Officials in both coal workers' unions have agreed that loss-making mines should be closed, but they demanded that workers who lose their jobs be guaranteed relocation and retraining opportunities.

The Independent Coal Workers' Union also has opposed plans to cut coal production, saying that all requests for coal supplies should be granted even if consumers cannot pay for them.