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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Vow to Pay Wages Averts Coal Miner Strike

A threatened nationwide strike in Russia's coal industry was averted Friday when the government agreed to pay miners all the money owed them from the federal budget by the end of the month.

Under the agreement reached in top-level talks between Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, new Fuel and Energy Minister Pyotr Rodionov, Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Petrov and union leaders, the union agreed to postpone the strike call until Sept. 1 at the earliest.

The postponement decision, reached at a session of the presidium of the Russian Independent Union of Coal Industry Workers, or Rosugleprof, was announced by deputy chairman Ivan Mokhnachuk in a statement released by Rosugol, the state-owned coal monopoly. Union leaders were unavailable for further comment Friday.

Rosugleprof, which claims to represent some 780,000 workers -- 90 percent of the industry's work force -- announced two weeks ago that its members would lay down their picks Aug. 26 unless the government paid miners an estimated 1.7 trillion rubles in back wages.

Friday's agreement represented a significant compromise on the part of the union, because most of the shortfall in miners' wages has resulted from the failure of coal consumers, especially power plants, to pay for the coal they burn.

According to data released by Rosugol this week, miners are owed more than 2 trillion rubles in back wages, but non-payments from consumers account for all but 200 billion rubles of this total.

A Finance Ministry spokesman said this figure remained the subject of debate, however. "Different figures were mentioned in the negotiations, and these estimates are inaccurate, as a rule," he said.

Rosugol data indicate that the federal government accrued a total debt of 581 billion rubles to the coal industry in the first seven months of this year.

The union retained the right to call a nationwide strike Sept. 1 if the government fails to make good on its promises. Union locals will remain at "pre-strike status," prepared to launch the strike at a call from the national leadership.

"The decision on the duration of a strike or its cancellation will be taken in accordance with the realization of decisions taken by the government," Rosugleprof declared in the statement.

The negotiations also produced a timetable for financing of the coal industry in the month of September, and "concrete measures" for ensuring payment of coal consumers' debts, which Rosugol estimates at 6.86 trillion rubles.