Miners put on show of force

  • 2001-04-26
  • Sergei Stepanov
NARVA - May 25 is the deadline for the government to reply to an ultimatum from Ida Virumaa county miners, otherwise further protest measures will be given the go-ahead.

This was the conclusion of a protest on April 21 in the town of Johvi in northeastern Estonia, which included about 2,000 protesters.

The organizers of the protest were forced to calm down some of the more vocal miners. The crowd angrily called for Prime Minister Mart Laar to hear their pleas.

The miners demanded that the government stop cutting the number of jobs in the state-owned mining company Eesti Polevkivi (Estonian Oil Shale).

With the recent closures of the Kohtla and Ahtme mines nearly 800 people have lost their jobs, a catastrophe for a region already suffering heavily from unemployment.

More than 2,000 people have lost their jobs in the northeast Estonian oil shale region during the past two years as a result of the restructuring of the national mining company.

Trade unions see the transition to part-time work as being one of the solutions. This might go some way to guaranteeing people their current jobs. Larger dismissal allowances and company pensions - the money a miner gets if he retires earlier than pension age - were also on the list of the miners' demands.

The miners said that if the government cannot ensure their jobs it should at least pay more money to those who are dismissed.

Miners who work a full five-day week get about 6,000 kroons ($342) as a monthly net salary.

Government officials did not show up at the protest. Kadi Parnits, the chairman of the Estonian trade unions' central union, accused the government of ignoring miners' concerns.

"The government is not interested in the region's problems," she said.