City marches again in protest

  • 2001-05-03
  • Sergei Stepanov
NARVA - A demonstration staged by oil-shale miners on May 1 in Narva lacked the emotion of previous protests but carried the same message aimed at the government: stop cutting our jobs.

Vladimir Alekseyev, the head of Narva trade unions, urged workers to unite their efforts in the struggle for their rights and demanded the government undertake concrete steps to stabilize the situation in the northwestern region.

"Despite Estonia's achievements, which were highly estimated by European politicians, the economic situation in Ida-Virumaa is getting worse; unemployment and people's impoverishment keep increasing," said Alekseyev.

Many households in the region can't even afford to buy a loaf of bread now, he added.

Trade union officials recommend freezing of communal service prices, among other measures.

"People simply cannot pay them," said Alekseyev.

Trade union officials also said they looked forward to talks with Prime Minister Mart Laar, who has scheduled a visit to the region.

The unions have threatened more protests, which they warn could lead to strikes over wage increases and job cuts.

Internal problems between trade union officials and workers became evident when Anatoli Yeremin, an employee at the local power station, took the floor at the demonstration and said the station's union is standing for the interests of the employer.

Vladimir Kupriyanov, the representative of a refinery committee, said the workers want the refinery to raise salaries by 12 percent, although the initial demand was 20 percent. According to Kupriyanov, the salary has not been raised since 1998.

The factory administration offered a 4.3 percent raise, and later agreed to an 8 percent hike. However, the conditions for getting the raise are tricky. Workers get a 4 percent raise initially, and the other 4 percent will be paid upon fulfilling production quotas.

But Kuprinayov said the refinery's facilities are already running at full capacity.

"For example, the oil producing equipment has a limit of oil producing. It can't make more oil than it makes now," he said.

Kupriyanov said the talks with the employer are at a dead-end.

"We face powerful pressure. Personally I was told that if we don't agree with the 8 percent raise, 30 percent of the factory's repair personnel will be dismissed," said Kupriyanov.

The workers' committee gathered 102 signatures from factory workers who are ready to pass their grievances to the Employees and Employers Union. If that doesn't work, they have threatened a two-hour strike and a blockade of the rail track connecting the refinery and the Narva power stations. The last measure would be a production stoppage.

Kupriyanov said the workers are surprised by the attitude of Alekseyev, the trade union leader.

"He acts like a simple observer of the conflict instead of providing necessary data and support," said Kupriyanov. "In his recent radio briefing with the workers at the factory Alekseyev evidently supported the employer."

Nikolai Golubev, the general manager of the oil refinery, said he thinks that the workers' aggressive approach will lead nowhere.

"The worker's committee operates with unconfirmed information, but the raise should be justified by real numbers," he said.

Commenting on alleged pressure on the workers and Kupriyanov personally, Golubev said the dismissal of one-third of the repair personnel was offered as one of the ways to cut expenses and provide the raise. He also said that if the workers do not understand the value of the administration's offer of a conditional 8 percent wage hike then he has no idea about further cooperation with the employers.