Russian Miners' Problems Still Unsolved

The employees of the Salair Ore Mining and Processing Enterprise demand paychecks at least for March

It was very noisy in Salair last Friday: the workers of the Salair Ore Mining and Processing Enterprise came to the administrative building of the company. People were asking for their money - the enterprise had not paid anything to its employees for almost four months. The company's management promised to pay 50 percent of the March wages on the threshold of the meeting, but the plans changed again.

The situation was not that catastrophic just a short time ago, it seemed so, at least. When the company summed up activity results for the year 2002, it turned out that the losses of the enterprise exceeded 30 million rubles. The situation at the enterprise was not tragic in August of the last year. Chief Engineer Yury Grats was proud of the enterprise at that time. Last year the enterprise celebrated its 200th anniversary: the experience, traditions and victories. The underground world is absolutely different, and it is very hard to get used to it. It is extremely hard for a human being to get used to explosions that blast the rock, shaking even the air. It is very hard not to see the sun for hours. A short trip under the ground can make anyone respect the profession of the miner at once.

The Salair mine does not exist anymore. "It was ordered on February 12th of the current year to stop the underground production, we are dismantling the equipment now, - the chief engineer said. - Of course, we knew that such production was very expensive, we knew that the mine would be closed, but we could not imagine that it would happen so fast."

Yury Grats came to work at the mining enterprise in 1972, after his graduation - he spent a big part of his life working at the company. Once the equipment is removed, the mine will be flooded. About a half of 450 miners do not work anymore: someone was employed at new factories of the enterprise, others left. Yet, new jobs have not improved workers' lives - it is not easy for them to get used to living on the ground after so many years of the underground work. Some miners travel 900 kilometers to the town of Kolguty, where they extract molybdenum and tungsten. The miners from Salair work there every other month - one month of work and one month of rest. They say, it is possible to earn up to 20,000 rubles there (about $800).

Specialists say, it is not possible to save the underground production under the current financial situation. Pavel Danyshin, acting executive director of JSC Salair Ore Mining and Processing Enterprise said, the mine was bringing five million rubles of losses to the enterprise, that is why it was decided to shut down the underground production.

There is another opinion on the issue, though: if someone had invested in the enterprise, the mine would have become profitable. However, it was a very expensive way to save the mine, and the underground world would soon become the underwater world.

It goes without saying, it is very hard to bring an unprofitable enterprise back to life. Pavel Danshin started working at the Salair company in March: "The company was saving debts, they  were growing like an avalanche. We have not had any positive balance in May and June, we did not take anything from the investor, the Salair Chemical Company. We managed to prove that would be able to work alone, we needed only production investments. It was a positive aspect. However, the earned money is not quick to be returned, which eventually resulted in salary debts."

The Salair Ore Mining and Processing Enterprise is the major company in Salair. In fact, it is the only place, where people can get work. That is why, salary debts became a real disaster for the people, in spite of the fact that the company does not provide very good jobs. A man in the grinding mill gets 1,500 rubles ($50), which is equal to the wages of the technical personnel. "It is very hard for people to live, - a 30-year-old woman is saying. - I have children, my husband died. We get his 1,500-ruble pension, and this the only money that we spend. I can not even borrow from anyone, because I do not know when I can pay it back.  I heard one woman saying, she had to cook from mixed fodder to feed her family. I do not know if it is true or not, but it does not make a surprise here. It is very hard to live here indeed. I wish I could go somewhere, but nobody is waiting for us anywhere."

Pensioners save a lot of families - they spend their meager pensions to feed their children and grandchildren. There is another unpleasant aspect too: the debts for communal services are growing. No one cares that they do not pay wages at the enterprise - communal services impose fines properly. In addition to it, the company's restructuring resulted in dismissals. A lot of workers were fired because of the underground production. The personnel of the enterprise counts 1,380 workers at present, but  it is planned to fire more people to achieve the level of 1,200, Pavel Danshin said. Maybe, it will help to minimize costs to a certain extent, but more than a hundred of people will lose their jobs. "So many people have been fired, but no one fires the managers, although they have higher wages," a woman said at the meeting.

The employees of the enterprise have already been warned of the possible dismissal. "The question about the further employment assistance will be possibly solved by the administration of the Salair Ore Mining and Processing Enterprise at your consent," the document says.

A lot of things have been said about the company's former external manager Nikolay Litvinenko. Local people believe that it was him, who had ruined the company and made it go bankrupt. Townsfolk were not happy with the article published in a local newspaper, in which it was said that Litvinenko had recently received a governmental award. Pavel Danshin said, he had not been authorized to comment on the issue: new external manager Igor Fomin was studying the documents on the enterprise's activity when it was administered by Litvinenko.

Spokespeople for trade unions suggested a voting for the draft resolution that was made up according to the results of the "meeting" between the administration of the enterprises, workers and trade unions. However, people passed the document, in which the administration obliged to pay the wages for March. The administration also promised to pay the wages for April and partially for May. The payments will depend on the agreements with investors. If promises remain just promises, a workgroup will decide, what should be done next. It is not ruled out that people will go on strike.

Natalia Guzeva

Author`s name Olga Savka