Poland feels the pain of its love affair with coal – by Agnieszka Barteczko and Barbara Lewis (Reuters – April 15, 2016)


WARSAW/BRUSSELS – For generations, the region of Silesia has been at the heart of Poland’s love affair with coal as a source of pride and heroism.

Election to Poland’s top job has depended on maintaining coal’s special national status and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a coal miner’s daughter from Silesia, swept to office in October on a promise she would ring-fence the industry’s 100,000 jobs.

It is a pledge she is now under almost as much pressure to break as to keep. The energy ministry has said the nation’s biggest mining firm, headquartered in Silesia, risks running out of cash at the end of the month. It is a familiar cry, and in the past, funds somehow appeared.

This time, however, they may not. Coal miners became heroes in Silesia when nine of them were shot dead in 1981 in an anti-communist protest against martial law. Now they are being asked to accept cuts in salaries that are among the highest in Poland because of the dangers of the job.

Energy ministry officials supervising Kompania Weglowa (KW), the European Union’s biggest coal mining company, say it cannot pay salaries in May if trade unions’ reject a plan to cut the company’s costs, more than half of which go on staff.

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