MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s prime minister pledged Thursday to quickly resolve a growing miners’ strike — but warned that the government could not keep subsidizing mines that are losing money and falling behind in wage payments.
Striking coal miners pressed ahead with protests in several regions Thursday, demanding back pay and guarantees that mines will not be closed. The protests have been growing over the past two weeks, and miners have blocked train traffic along the Trans-Siberian railway.
Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, in office for just two months, said he wanted to defuse the crisis swiftly but he also needed to keep government spending from spiraling out of control.
Private mining companies owe most of the debt, he said, claiming that back wages were piling up because mines were selling coal at prices far below their production costs, driving themselves into financial ruin.
Kiriyenko said the government is working on a program to gradually shut money-losing mines and help miners find new jobs. The coal miners, demanding wages that are up to six months overdue, say they are owed an estimated $1.45 billion.
Acting on Kiriyenko’s proposals, the Russian parliament passed a law Wednesday that earmarks an additional $86 million for the miners.
The Independent Coal Miners Union refused to say how many miners were on strike, but Russian media said there were thousands, if not tens of thousands, out of 500,000 miners nationwide.