By Alina Pogoda (Polska Zielona Siec)
Eastern Wielkopolska is the coal region in Poland which has the most ambitious plans to move away from coal: authorities want a phaseout within nine years. The announcement of a mine closure schedule by coal and energy company ZE PAK Group has made the local community and all miners more certain of the upcoming changes. In turn, this has enabled them to prepare programmes to remain professionally active after coal.
Over the past few months, ZE PAK and the trade unions have prepared a project proposal to be supported by the EU Just Transition Fund. The aim of the Fund is to create new jobs for people leaving the mining and mining-related industries, to finance retraining programmes, to diversify the economy of coal regions, or to repair the environment.
The aim of the project proposed by ZE PAK and the miners is to keep them professionally active and successfully employed in new positions. This would be done by improving and changing the qualifications of ZE PAK employees as well as of the entrepreneurs cooperating with the company, by providing support in finding employment for miners and their family members, and by providing support in relocating to places with better chances of employment. The project provides for mining holidays, trainee pensions and bridging allowances, vocational counselling, retraining programmes or psychological support as part of specific support instruments for people leaving the mining industry.
In addition, the project proposal envisages support for entrepreneurs who would like to employ former miners. This would consist of subsidising the creation and equipping of workplaces. It would also include a wage subsidy for employers taking on ZE PAK Group employees. It is already known that the resources from the Just Transition Fund cannot be used to cover employment costs, so this part of the project is unlikely to be funded from the EU JTF – and perhaps even not get implemented at all.
According to the project fiche, 2,200 persons would be supported if the project is approved. The total cost of the programme would be between PLN 220 and 330 million.
The ZE PAK Employee Council also submitted its project proposal to the Regional Development Agency in Konin. This time, the project was created from the bottom up by the miners themselves, who wrote down what support they would like to receive when leaving their jobs.
The project would see the establishment of an Employee Support Centre (PCW), which would be the first point of contact for miners leaving the industry. The role of the PCW would be to liaise with other institutions and entities that may offer support to employees, gather all the information and opportunities and then pass it on in an accessible form to interested beneficiaries. In addition, the Centre is meant to be a place which can ensure continuity of work for some of the employees of the mining and energy sector. It is to employ staff from the administrative departments of the mines and power plants in order to reduce the communication and psychological barrier between the staff and the person served. The PCW is to provide support for acquiring new professional qualifications or upgrading existing ones.
The instrument used for this purpose would be a training voucher, entitling the employee to take courses and professional exams of his/her choice. The proposed amount of the voucher is PLN 30,000. It will be also possible to obtain co-financing for the establishment and development of sole proprietorships on more favourable conditions than programmes currently offered by labour offices. The center is meant to provide support through vocational counselling and job placement as well.
Furthermore, the PCW is planning activities aimed at preventing social exclusion by, among others, providing support in the form of a health voucher in the amount of PLN 10,000 or providing permanent psychological assistance. Additionally the PCW will deal with the coordination of aid system for employees in pre-retirement age in the area of bridge pensions or severance pay.
Both of these project proposals have been developed by miners from the ZE PAK Group, who want to create a post-coal future for themselves. These projects are still in the early planning stages and may still be amended. It is not clear at this point who would be the institution leading the projects. ZE PAK does not have much experience in running projects aimed at retraining such a large number of workers and finding new employers for them.
The miners from ZE PAK representing the trade unions as well as the workers’ council agree that retraining programmes and deeper cooperation between employees and future employers are necessary as part of the support. At this point it is extremely gratifying that the miners of Eastern Wielkopolska are taking matters into their own hands and are creating projects from the bottom up that will guarantee them new jobs.
Photo showing a lignite mine in Konin, by Anna Weronika Brzezińska, published under a creative commons licence.