As coal mines shut, Silesia miners face unsure future


Mines in Poland’s Silesia, Europe’s largest coal mining area, are on the verge of closure. The European Inexperienced Deal goals to scale back CO2 emissions by 55 p.c by 2030 and ultimately obtain local weather neutrality by 2050. However for this power transition to be justified, the decarbonization course of should make sure the rights and livelihoods of the employees affected. In Poland, this transformation is elevating each hope and worry, and whereas miners perceive the necessity for change, in addition they worry for his or her future and the way forward for their area.

Based on miners’ unions, Poland has closed two-thirds of its mines up to now 30 years, decreasing the variety of jobs within the area from 300,000 to 80,000. The influence of those shutdowns has been uneven. Whereas Katowice, the capital of the Silesian’voivodeship’ Or the province, having fun with some new improvement, has created pockets of social strife and poverty in lots of different cities the place mining was beforehand the principle supply of revenue. The closure has had little impact on greenhouse fuel emissions, leaving many miners to surprise to what extent closing the mines may clear up the issue with out basic adjustments to Poland’s power mannequin.


Together with the mine, the Laziska Steelworks is the principle employer in and across the municipality of Laziska.

Picture: Hannah Jaarzbeck

The Polish economic system is closely depending on the metallurgical trade, with 74 p.c of its power coming from coal (home and imported) whereas solely 15 p.c comes from renewable power. Below these circumstances, assembly the EU’s 2030 objectives will likely be no straightforward job. And whereas many in Poland perceive that change is important – the nation has 36 of Europe’s 50 most hazy cities, 12 of that are in Silesia – the query of truly result in this transformation has left many individuals at midnight. are scratching their heads.

Historical past studying exhibits that the miners’ fears are well-founded: “Since 1989, nobody has efficiently rebuilt a mine,” stated Andrzej Chwiluk, president of the Polish Miners’ Union (KWK) on the Makoszowy mine in Zbarz. telling. similar time, “The choice to shut our mine was taken in every week. Nobody stated: ‘Prepare guys, as a result of in a yr or two, we’ll shut.’ No, they only gave us the certificates of dismissal and that was it. It did not make any sense financially. We had one of the vital trendy mine shafts and we even gained an award for the most secure mine,” he says. When the Makoszovi mine was chosen for closure in 2016, it employed 1,700 employees. Of those, 500 stay to take care of and safe the shafts, and to administratively handle the land and workers. This quantity will drop to 80 by 2023, the cut-off date.


The Makoszowy mine in Zabrze ended mining operations in 2016. Since then, it’s within the means of closure, which is to be accomplished in 2023. At the moment, 200 individuals work there.

Picture: Hannah Jaarzbeck

“It might probably take as much as seven years to shut a mine, as in our case. In the meantime, not a single new job has been created right here,” says Chiluk. “We nonetheless have 200 staff. Girls are in probably the most tough place. After 37 years of labor, since he can not retire, he’s supplied a job as a sweeper or supervisor at a petroleum station. An accountant, who spent his whole life within the workplace, is taking care of petrol pumps on the outskirts of the town, and even has to work evening shifts. It’s not at all times doable to get there by public transport and most of them wouldn’t have a automobile or driving license, don’t care concerning the cash to pay for it. And it’s unlikely that his wage will likely be maintained. It seems like the identical story will likely be repeated within the mines that at the moment are closed.”


Andrzej Chwiluk, President of the Polish Miners’ Union KWK Makoszowi together with his grandson.

Picture: Hannah Jaarzbeck

In Could 2021, after tense negotiations, miners’ unions signed a social settlement with the federal government on the transformation of the exhausting coal mining sector, which supplies for operations in particular person mines to proceed till 2049. The doc establishes a program for progressive closure and a package deal of social advantages for miners, together with lump-sum severance funds. Nonetheless, its implementation relies on the notification means of the European Fee and a positive opinion isn’t assured. Though the request was despatched in late February, the standing of the talks remains to be unknown. One doable motive for the delay is the armed battle in Ukraine, which has critically threatened EU power coverage.

The yr 2049 could show to be a really late date for the European Union. As well as, the settlement foresees two mechanisms that might jeopardize funding for the change – public allocation for the realm and funding for the development and launch of what’s outlined as “clear coal services”. , which is used for the gasification of coal. for artificial pure fuel, amongst different issues.


Miners are working 650 meters beneath floor on the Piast mine in Bierus, Silesia. The mine is scheduled to shut in 2035.

Picture: Hannah Jaarzbeck

“The settlement ensures us that nobody will lose their jobs and that the shutdown will likely be progressive,” explains Jerzy Demsky, president of the underground employees union on the Piast mine in Byrus. “In 2017, the federal government advised us that Poland wanted thousands and thousands of investments in coal, equipment, coaching and even scholarships to draw college students. Precisely three years later, they needed to close us down virtually in a single day. We now know that we now have about 30 years to plan every thing. However we now have to begin appearing, as a result of time is working out and nothing has been carried out for the reason that settlement was signed. “

Based on the timetable, the Soznica mine in Gliwice will cease mining coal in 2029. The mine presently employs 1,800 individuals, of whom 800 will stay till 2029 to make sure the closure course of. “Among the remaining 1,000 individuals will retire, however for the remaining it is a drawback,” explains 37-year-old Pavel Klusewicz, president of the Contra Miners Union on the Soznica mine. “Now the administration is on the lookout for excuses to evacuate individuals. This occurred to a miner who had an accident at work and was then fired on the finish of his sick depart. The administration claimed that he was absent for a really very long time. And those that have simply been fired won’t get severance pay. Solely those that depart after the lockdown in 2029 will get it.”


KONTRA miners union president Paweł Klucewicz (left), and union member Miroslav Wilk (proper), pose of their official miners’ uniforms on the Sośnica mine (Gliwice). Each have labored within the mine for greater than 13 years.

Picture: Hannah Jaarzbeck

“I perceive it. We now have to surrender coal, no drawback,” says Miroslav Vilk, a member of the KONTRA union on the Soznica mine. “However give us one thing in return. Nothing new is opening up right here!” Wilk has been working underground for 13 years. He shares a 46 sq. meter flat together with his spouse, who works in a processing plant in the identical mine, and has two youngsters. Their habitat is a far cry from the parable of wealthy miners. “120,000 Zloty” [approximately €25,600 or US$26,800] Severance pay is sufficient for me to reside for a yr. I’m 44 years previous and have spent virtually my whole skilled life in mining. Now who will give me job? We now have a particular financial zone [in Katowice]What number of employees can it truly soak up?”


A panoramic view of Katowice, the capital of the Silesian province.

Picture: Hannah Jaarzbeck

SEZ Katowice, firms in a particular financial zone get pleasure from preferential circumstances similar to tax exemption. It was established in 1996 with the purpose of supporting the restructuring processes and creating new jobs within the sector. Since then, the Particular Financial Zone has created 90,000 jobs. The mining trade presently employs 80,000 individuals and, in line with commerce unions, a job in a mine creates 4 jobs in associated sectors.

“Even within the personal sector there are not any unions, no collective bargaining agreements, no social advantages, nothing,” says Chviluk. “Most of those contracts are garbage; They’re for a brief time frame and there’s no assure of extension. Once they determined to shut our mine, we got here up with concepts on use the mine land and infrastructure to generate jobs. We proposed a waste incineration plant, a hydroelectric station utilizing mine water, photo voltaic farms on a pile of unusable coal, a automobile depot on one aspect of the mine, even bottling and promoting recent water from the mine. stored. All this stuff would have given employment to a couple of thousand individuals, however nobody took these tasks critically. It so occurred that Greta Thunberg came around us. After speaking to them and NGOs, I lastly felt that somebody was listening to us.

Participation in decision-making processes is among the cornerstones of equitable change, however dialogue has solely simply begun in Poland. “All events want to come back to the desk and develop a extra holistic strategy to the entire course of, which places employees and the local people on the centre. It has not been carried out thus far, however I need to consider that there’s extra hope this time,” says Patrick Bialas, metropolis councilor and member of the Katowice Metropolis Mining Fee.


The Guido Museum in Zabrze, in-built a former mine, is the most important underground advanced in Europe, with 10 kilometers of trails to discover. As we speak it employs about 100 former miners. Roman Chitri, a retired miner, is now a museum information.

Picture: Hannah Jaarzbeck

Retraining, one other pillar of simply transition, has additionally not proved to be straightforward. Programs are not often held, and when they’re, they educate expertise similar to language, hairdressing, and even floriculture. “The union will likely be glad to take part within the group of coaching programs once more, as a result of we all know what firms want, however every thing is set on the degree of the European Union. Nobody has consulted us on this matter. And I do not see any tasks but that actually improve the {qualifications} of employees,” says Marek Klusewicz, president of the Contra Miners Union’s nationwide committee.

Based on info offered by Slavomir Gruzka, spokesman for the Workplace of the President of Silesian Voivodeship, the province has developed the power challenge in cooperation with the Katowice Particular Financial Zone with the purpose of enhancing employees’ expertise and growing employment. The challenge targets 310 individuals, together with miners and employees from firms associated to the mining trade, who’re liable to redundancy. Scheduled to start on 1 December 2021, enrollment for this system has but to start.


The Zimovit mine in Ledzini, Silesia is scheduled to shut in 2037.

Picture: Hannah Jaarzbeck

“We’d like coaching and help to create jobs, however I feel we additionally want to take a look at modernization and new applied sciences,” says Klusewicz. “We have to scale back the quantity of greenhouse gases whereas guaranteeing the nation’s power independence. Given what is occurring in Ukraine, we could have to rethink issues.”



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