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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strike Ends in Pay for Metro Diggers

A group of Metro tunnel diggers were back in daylight and recovering Tuesday after spending the last four weeks underground on hunger strike in protest at unpaid wages.

The last four drill workers out of an original group of 12 decided Monday to end a vigil in the new Krasnodonskaya subway extension in southwest Moscow after they received 10 million to 12 million rubles ($1,800 to $2,000) each from their employer, the Tonot construction company, in payment of eight months of wage arrears.

One of five workers admitted to the hospital in the course of the strike, Igor Shchepel from Donetsk, Ukraine, was glad about the money but still not happy with the results of the strike. "I would like those who are responsible to be punished and then I would like to be sent on a package tour to Miami," he said from his hospital bed.

Shchepel, who broke his strike last Friday after doctors warned of an impending heart attack, said fellow tunnelers who had chosen not to go on strike had initially supported the protesters. But later they began to fear the strikers were a threat to their own pay claims and started to hurl abuse at them.

A group of Duma deputies, Shchepel said, intervened at a crucial time to save the strikers. The deputy police chief for southwest Moscow threatened to forcibly eject the miners late last week, but he encountered a group of visitors in the underground gloom who turned out to be deputies from the State Duma, anxious to bring the strikers' plight to parliament's attention.

"We were lucky that they bumped into the deputies in the tunnel. We don't have a society where the law functions normally," said Shchepel. "They [the militia] saw them, asked them who they were and upon hearing Duma deputies, that was an end to the matter -- all others considerations fell by the wayside."

The Tonot company agreed to pay only nine of the 12 original strikers and has not paid workers who were not on strike.

No comment was available from Tonot management Tuesday, although a technical production engineer at the company said that Tonot is unable to pay its workers on time because of hold-ups in the transfer of state funds down the organizational chain. Tonot is a subcontractor funded by the Moscow city government and the federal budget.

"We have paid them [the hunger strikers] at the expense of other metro construction workers who have not received their money either," said Tatyana Kozlova, who was unable to say when other non-striking workers might expect to receive back-pay.

But for the nine hunger strikers, the next step is starting court proceedings for compensation. As far as the tunnellers are concerned, the blame lies with their direct employer, Tonot.

Meanwhile, as the men begin their convalescence in various city hospitals, relatives are beginning to reach Moscow from their hometowns in Russia and Ukraine. Shchepel's own wife arrived Friday morning, the day he was admitted to the hospital.

"She'll take care of me, although I don't know if my heart will withstand the extra strain," he added with a broad smile.