Ukrainian Socialist Eyewitness Report of Arcelormittal Workers’ Struggle

The ArcelorMittal Workers Overcomes Pressure From The Bosses and are Preparing A Strike

Workers at Arcellor K Rih

Workers of the metallurgical giant ArcelorMittal in Ukraine are preparing for a strike On  March 27, a conference of the workers – their labour collective agreed their demands including pay rise and improved conditions.   The conference of the ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih PJSC workers  at the Mystetskyi House of Culture  saw 400 attend.   The management resorted to  unprecedented pressure on the workers.  In particular, xenophobic rhetoric and allegations that the workers’ conference was part of campaigning of odious politicians, accused all trade unions of corruption and “destructive” behaviour.  Also, the management announced the holding of their own rival conference. The workers regarded it as trying to break the quorum. However, such methods only rallied the workers  who voted in favour of a strike, 3/4 of the delegates in favour. If the employers rejects the demands, and the conciliatory procedures will not produce results, the workers will be able to declare the strike legally.

An organiser of the  Socialnyi Rukh (Social Movement) recently met with trade union leaders and activists in Kryvyi Rih AT THE March 27, the Conference of the workers at Arselor Mittal.  Activists of Socialny Rukh have been distributing leaflets at the factory and also had a speaker at a local union rally.   This exclusive report gives an insight to the situation, for protection of union activists names have been anonymised.

Zakhar Popovych of Social Movement speaking at workers rally in Kryvyi Rih

Situation at Sukha Balka

A trade union leader recounted that in 2017 the trade union movement began to be become active, although the unions have been around since 1992. It began on 1 May 2017 when 300 people from Kryviy Rih came out on a peaceful protest to voice their demands that wages for labour be increased to 1,000 Euros (a month). They took this figure because that is approximately what workers  earn in European countries. He says that there is a very big problem that many workers are leaving for work abroad, especially in Poland.

In 2017 after a meeting at the K.Zh.R.K mine people remained underground and put forward the demand that their wages be increased. On 11 May close to three hundred people at the Jubilee (Yubileina) mine would not come up from the the shaft at 340 metres below ground; the same at the Sukha Balka mine where close to 150 people stayed underground. They were demanding payment of their wages, an increase in social and health benefits and the 13th month pay packet. They created a working group, held a meeting,  after which a mediation commission went to work.  Then the mines were run by a Russian company belonging to the oligarchs  Abramovich, Ambramov and Frolov. Wages were increased by by 20% with a commitment to raise them to 1,000 Euros by the end of the year.

sr-leaflet-2 (1)
Social Movement leaflet distributed at Arcellor Mittal

In July the company owned by Yaroslavsky became the new owner of the mines. A constructive dialogue began with them (the new owners), and an attempt was made to develop it and address the plan and the demands which had not yet been implemented. They met more than opnce with the mediation commission and the general director, but everything depended on a stable rate of return on the ore market. However, it was necessary to raise the wages quickly so that the work collective did not leave for work abroad.

Everywhere people are talking about wages at ArcelorMittal, K.Zh.R.K and Sukha Balka.

At the K.Zh.R.K enterprise the owner was prepared to raise wages sfrom April, by exactly how much its still not clear.

A trade union leader says that that there are 160 people in the trade union at Sukha Balka – that’s a small number, but they are strong and are not about to give in. Even if they are told there is no money available to raise the wages they |the workers) will proceed on the basis of concrete volumes of mined ore.  At the moment the wages are not even $300 for some workers. And the mine is quite dangerous to work in; its considered the deepest in Kryviy Rih. He says they are not disposed to be aggressive, they are not the radical type.

He says that the workers understand, or at least they are trying to understand how it is that there is money available for wages but it is being taken offshore. They are afraid of something, afraid to say that their pay is low. They can say it to the trade union leader but not to the owner. The main reason is that they are afraid to lose their jobs. Its also because of their disanchantment with the trade unions, (they don’t believe) that they can achieve anything. For, as far as I am concerned there are a lot of “pocket” unions or “banana” unions. There is only one Independent Union of Mine Workers of Ukraine (NGPU).

They have initiated a collective labour dispute, and collected signatures, but not yet registered it, their demands are not being met, they are waiting for an answer from the management (of the mine). He says that its tough because (some of the) workers are saying “we are with you”, but not those at their place of work. That is to say, nobody believes in the in the unions because they misled them before, that they didn’t provide the necessary support. They are working on it, so that the workers will understand that the trade unions are on their side. This is all perhaps because of the “pocket” unions.

The collectrive labour dispute is entered into with the administration, the independent union and the “pocket” union. In the “pocket” union there are lots of members, up to 1,000. The number of delegates (to support the resolution of the labour dispute) depends on the number of people who belong to the trade union. So they decide everything because they have the majority of votes, which leads to a worsening of working conditions and of wages. This has happened before with (the negotiation) of demands concerning health benefits.

He says that the (mine) director understands everything, that the workers’ wages are low, but he has to simulate (put up a front) so that the enterprise carries on working.

AMKR-protest

 Kryviy Rih City Trade Union of Industry Workers of Arcelor Mittal

A trade union leader recounted how they printed beforehand, within a day, compromising material  about one of trade union leader and gave it out to many people. Then there appeared a leaflet in which people were to a conference, where apparently their would be an opportunity meet Serhii Kaplin, the presidential candidate.

The management released all kinds (of dirt) and split the (labour) collective. And that’s how there came to be two conferences – one at B.K. Mystetskiy, the other at the factory. Despite the fact that the trade union had given 17 days’ notice about the conference. Before the conference he was saying it was a mix-up (kasha – porridge) that it was difficult to foresee what could happen. He says that ever since Arcelor(Mittal) has been in existence there has not been such dirty methods employed.

He thinks that this is all got to do with the new director of personnel and the fact that she has been given a lot of responsibility. The management said that they did not want to go to the conference because they were afraid for their safety and for their lives, that’s why they refused. A lawyer has been asked to look into it and determine vwhether this was legal, whether the management could do such a thing. They left out two or three points from the agenda: the dismissal of directors, an increase in wages – the basic demands (of the unions). But the unions put their demands back onto the agenda.

You need at least two months to make a strike because you have to go through a “conciliation” process. In some European countries you can start (a strike) right away. He thinks that if that was possible (here) perhaps it would be more effective. The people don’t understand why they can’t go on strike right away. (If they do) an investigation will be launched, they will find the guilty party, who put them up to it.

He says that the the management has piled on the pressure (literally “bent the rod”) because they have a strategy to destroy the trade unions, that there is a whole presentation and programme (to do this). They even showed it to one trade union. He did not see it himself, but his comrades in the mine workers’ union were saying they had seen it. For more than a year now there are no passes to the plant (for trade union representatives). They give them for one day and they escort them from door to door with a guard. They may even prevent you from coming to work unless you have a pass.

He spoke many times to the management telling them that its necessary to meet, not to hide. There is no dialogue (between the workers and the administration). They dictate all the rules and the workers, not them, have to make all the compromises.

The management continually dismisses people, does not answer questions put to it by the trade union, does not provide any documentation of instructions to workers, but refuses to show them saying they don’t have the right to see them. This has been going on for three years. At first the social wage package was cut from 42 to 15 million (hryvnia). They optimised (streamlined, cut) the health recuperation trips (to sanatoria). They took that away from the trade unions. The administration turned to outsourcing. The trade union used to work directly with the boardsing houses (pensionaty). But there was no tender from the management; now they work with tourist agencies, and not everyone gets a place on them (health recuperation at sanatoria). He says that its dangerous, people are afraid to go to work, that even the roof over the bathhouse is falling in.

Arcelor Mittal Kryvyi Rijh March 14 2018

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