MAC: Mines and Communities

Miner "transferred" after exposing inhuman conditions at Ukraine disaster mine

Published by MAC on 2011-08-30
Source: Kyiv Post, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (2011-08-12)

A mine worker who denounced unacceptable working conditions at a Ukrainian coal mine where an explosion killed 28 people last month, has apparently been victimised by the company responsible.

Ukraine's Prime Minister promises that "if information [is] received that Smetanin had really been threatened, the Governor and director of the mine would lose their jobs".

However, he made no mention that action would be taken against the ultimate owner of the disastrous mine - the country's richest individual, Rinat Akhmetov.

See: Ukraine: the world's deadliest coal

Whistleblower coal miner reportedly forced out of job

By Vlad Lavrov

Kyiv Post

12 August 2011

Ihor Smetanin, who criticized bosses over July 29 explosion killing 28 men, says he is under pressure.

Ihor Smetanin, Ukrainian coal miner
Ihor Smetanin, Ukrainian coal miner
'under pressure' Source: Kyiv Post

Openly criticizing dangerous conditions in which Ukraine's underpaid coal miners work can be a bad career move.

Ihor Smetanin said he has been asked by management to leave the company. He was a wagon driver at billionaire Rinat Akhmetov's Luhansk coal mine, where 28 miners died in a methane explosion on June 29.

But Ihor Kyryliuk, spokesperson for Akhmetov's Metinvest mining and steel conglomerate, said Smetanin got a job at another company-owned coal mine, Samsonivska-Zakhidna.

Ukrainian coal mines are considered among the most dangerous in the world, with an accident rate of two people per one million tons of coal extracted.

By the time this edition of the Kyiv Post went to press, Smetanin couldn't be reached on his mobile phone for confirmation.

One of the workers who brought the bodies of the dead miners to the surface, Smetanin vaulted on to the national spotlight after a video appeared online in which he blamed the mine's management and owners for the deaths.

"My supervisor gave me a sheet of paper and told me to write a resignation letter, saying that we won't be able to work together," Smetanin told the Kyiv Post in a phone interview on Aug. 8.

"Look, don't you understand that I won't be able to stay there. Even if I stay, they will let me work for a month or two and then eat me alive. It's better to quit."

In the video that may have cost him his job, Smetanin openly lamented the unrelenting pressure by mine owners to increase coal, saying that the coal miners "died because they keep [telling us]: ‘Come on! Faster! Give us [new] shafts, give us millions."

Other miners have gone public in recent years.

Experts and free trade union activists say Ukraine's authorities and business tycoons tightly control thousands of miners working in more than 1one hundred mines, in part through non-independent unions.

Ukrainian miners are, on average, paid less than colleagues in neighboring Poland, despite strong business margins at the local mines. Domestic mines are also notoriously more dangerous.

The miner's departure from his job comes just days after Prime Minister Mykola Azarov unexpectedly backed him.

Without naming Akhmetov or managers by name, Azarov blamed the "greed" for the accident and promised protection to the miner.

"I believe him (Smetanin). I see that he is desperate," wrote Azarov on his Facebook page. "I will make sure his frankness doesn't cost his job."

Vitaly Lukianenko, Azarov's spokesman, said the prime minister is aware of the situation and instructed his subordinates to ensure that Smetanin is reinstated at Sukhodilska-Skhidna.

"It's a double-edged situation," Lukianenko said. "Officially, Smetanin quit himself, even though one might imagine they forced him do so. If they did force him, he will get his job back."

Speaking to journalists on Aug. 11, Azarov reiterated his intentions to hold oblast officials responsible for Smetanin's employment. "We won't let anyone do away with Smetanin, no matter who he is," Azarov said.

But in an earlier interview with Kyiv Post, Smetanin said that despite all the trouble he got into, he does not regret what he said, even though he was very pessimistic that conditions at his coal mine will improve.

I am not sorry for what I said, but on the on the other hand, nothing will change. I should have just quit quietly and gone on searching for a better fate.

- Ihor Smetanin

"I am not sorry for what I said, but on the on the other hand, nothing will change. I should have just quit quietly and gone on searching for a better fate. [After the videotaped interview] my life has gotten much worse. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown right now," Smetanin said.

Ukrainian coal mines are considered among the most dangerous in the world, with an accident rate of two people per one million tons of coal extracted.

This is almost triple the mortality rate of the Chinese coal mines, 10 times higher than in Russia and almost 100 times higher than coal miners' mortality in the United States.

According to the experts, the widespread use of shady intermediaries and tax optimization schemes, common practice of selling the coal at below the market rates, as well as the chronic unwillingness of the billionaire owners to invest into the mines' safety and modernization could be at the root of the problem.

Kyiv Post staff writer Vlad Lavrov can be reached at lavrov@kyivpost.com.


Miner who complained of inhuman conditions after mine disaster "transferred"

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

15 August 2011

http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1313366312

Following considerable publicity over reports that Ihor Smetanin, the miner who spoke out about inhuman conditions at the Sukhodilska-Eastern Mine had been fired, the Head of the Luhansk Regional Administration has stated that Mr Snetabub has been moved to another mine.

As reported, Ihor Smetanin spoke to journalists after the latest disaster on 29 July at the Sukhodilska-Eastern Mine, owned by billionaire National Deputy from the Party of the Regions, Rinat Akhmetov.

Ihor spoke in the video, which was posted on Youtube, about helping to bring his dead colleagues up to the surface and how he had cried all night.

He said that there may have been as much as 5 percent methane in the mine, with the nom being around half a percent. Most harrowingly, he said that if there's a leak, they just air the place a bit and continue working. If they don't, they can lose their job.

They earn a pittance and work in shocking conditions. Men are expendable ....

All this was reiterated by the Head of the Confederation of Free Mining Unions, Mykola Koziuberda. He told the Internet publication OstroV that the blast at the Sukhodilska-Eastern Mine was the result of the owner's "greed" and the intense pace with which the coal faces are being worked

Ihor Smetanin was dismissed.

At a press conference on 11 August, the Head of the Solidarity Labour Movement, Konstantin Ilchenko said that Ihor Smetanin was in hiding.

"I spoke with him. He agreed to take part on 11 August in our press conference. But after our conversation police arrived to speak with him - the bandits had a conversation with him and promised that he'd be found in a cell and nobody would lift a finger. And the man got frightened. This is how people live in the Luhansk region".

Following this publicity Prime Minister Azarov stated that if information was received that Smetanin had really been threatened, the Governor and director of the mine would lose their jobs.

It was reported the next day that the Head of the Luhansk Regional Administration, Vladimir Pristiuk stated to the press that t he had personally checked what had happened to Ihor Smetanin after the miner's interview was widely reported in the media, followed by reports that he had lost his job. Mr Pristiuk said that Ihor Smetanin had been moved to another mine - Samsonovskaya-Western. He said that the document about his leaving the Sukhodilska-Eastern Mine stated that he was doing this of his own free will, Pristiuk had doubted that this had been voluntary. He apparently rang the Director General of Krasnodonugol and demanded that Ihor Smetanin be reinstated.

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