Poland’s coal-based energy sector provides a livelihood for hundred of thousands of people in Upper Silesia and has the potential to swing Sunday’s (25 October) national election.
In the small Polish town of Brzeszcze, part of the Upper Silesian coal basin, almost half of the 21,000 inhabitants depend on one employer: the KWK Brzeszcze mine, which is soon to be closed.
More then 2,000 men stand to lose their jobs because, for the last couple of years, the mine has been unprofitable – for every tonne of coal sold, the company had to pay an extra 265 zlotys.
If the mine is closed, unemployment in the municipality will skyrocket from its already-high level of 11.6%.
A similar fate probably awaits another 11,000 workers from unprofitable mines run by the biggest state mining company, Kompania Węglowa and 3,000 from JSW.
“The situation in the mining sector is tragic and we are fighting to keep our livelihoods”, Roman Brudzinski, head of the JSW miners’ union, told EUobserver.
Aleksander Sniegocki, an energy market and climate expert from the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies, said that it was only during the period of 2010 until 2013 that the Polish government pumped 22 billion zlotys into the mines in the form of state subsidies.
Poland is not only paying extra for every tone of coal produced in its mines, but the industry itself does not add anything to the country’s GDP growth.
“The profitability of this industry is much lower than any other sector. The coal also doesn’t count in the export results: we export only 10 million tonnes per year and [we] import [a] similar amount so the balance is zero,” Sniegocki said.
Due to technological underdevelopment, the productivity of Polish mines is very low, with 648 tonnes of coal produced per worker per year while in the worst US mines it is more then 2,000 tonnes.
In the biggest state-owned coal companies – Kompania Węglowa and JSW – labour costs constitute 50% of operating costs (compared to the privatised and profitable Bogdanka mine, where operating costs are around 20%).
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