Poland's miners agree on deal to end strike

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The Independent Online
THE MOST serious strike in the history of Poland's coal mining industry appeared to have come to an end yesterday when miners at 52 out of 65 striking pits agreed to return to work.

Although not all their demands had been met, Solidarity trade union leaders on the miners' strike committee expressed satisfaction with the government's promise to help loss-making pits pay off their debts and to pump more money into a radical restructuring programme covering the industry over the next 10 years.

The government stressed that it had not bowed to the miners' wage demands and that the three- week strike had had no 'braking effect' on the country's far-reaching economic reform policies.

Well over 300,000 people are employed in Poland's coal mining industry, and miners have been among those hardest hit by soaring inflation and the fall in real wages since the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989.

A sustained strike, coming at the height of winter, could have had a devastating impact on the country. To counter possible domestic fuel shortages, the government last week announced a ban on coal exports and made it clear that it would even consider importing coal to meet basic needs.

Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to make significant cuts in its budget deficit, the government insisted there was no money to guarantee inflation-linked pay rises. It was also terrified that if it caved in to the miners, a dangerous precedent would be set that could spark a wave of similar wage demands.

Under the complicated compromise reached with Solidarity, the government agreed to lift the ban on coal exports, to restructure the mines' debts of 8,000bn zlotys ( pounds 334m) and to provide 1,700bn zlotys to help with a radical restructuring programme under which the heaviest loss-making mines are set to be closed down.

Miners are also set to receive average pay rises of between 10 and 15 per cent - but these will be determined by individual mine directors and will be dependent on profitability and productivity, the government insisted.

Despite upbeat talk and sighs of relief, the truce between the two sides could prove to be temporary. The more radical unions have opposed the deal, and even Solidarity has put its members on standby to resume the strike if the government fails to deliver more concrete pledges on pay during talks over the next few days.

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