Published on March 30, 2021

Will the miners of Malopolska be left in the lurch?

by Alina Pogoda (Polish Green Network)

4,500 people from the Malopolska region work in hard coal mining in Silesia. When the mines close there, the miners in Malopolska will also lose their livelihoods, but they may not receive support from the Just Transformation Fund.

Western Malopolska, as one of Poland’s coal regions, is seeking money from the Just Transition Fund (JTF) to create new jobs for hard coal miners. The money from the Fund is to be spent on economic diversification, change of professional qualifications of people working in mining and coal-related industries, and environmental recultivation.

In order to benefit from EU support, the region must ensure that it phases out its mining activities by 2030. According to unofficial information, Malopolska has already set deadlines for the closure of the two mines currently operating here that extend beyond 2030, ruling out any chance of obtaining JTF money. Without funds for transformation, the region faces a social crisis.

Western Malopolska is located within the Upper Silesian Coal Basin, which has the largest coal reserves, conducts the most intensive mining and processes the most coal in the country. The Malopolska region includes two mines from this basin, “Janina” and “Brzeszcze”, which belong to energy company Tauron Wydobycie S.A. Both mines employ almost 4,000 people, and the three associated power plants, located in Trzebinia, Skawina and Kraków, employ another approx. 1,200 workers.

The coal industry is a key employer in Western Malopolska. It has provided work for entire families for a century. It has also contributed to the emergence of a strong cultural identity associated with mining. The Siersza mine in the region was closed 20 years ago without proper planning for life beyond, and the negative social, economic and environmental effects of this decision can still be seen today. People in the region are weary this might happen again with other mines.

The subregion’s residents, however, work in large numbers not only in “Janina” and “Brzeszcze”, but also in mines and related enterprises in the Silesian Voivodeship. According to an analysis of tax returns, 4,500 people from Malopolska are employed in hard coal mining in Silesia.

Silesia is currently experiencing turbulent negotiations over the schedule of mine closures. A hard-fought agreement between trade unions and the government provides for the closure of Silesian mines by 2049. These mines also employ people from the Malopolska region. The difficult situation of the hard coal mining industry, caused by the unprofitability of the extraction of the raw material, may lead to the fact that these plants will be closed sooner than the trade unionists are trying to achieve.

According to information provided by the Marshal’s Office of Malopolska, workers from this region are mainly employed at coal company PG Silesia, the KWK Piast-Ziemowit mine and the power plant in Jaworzno. The preliminary date for the closure of KWK Piast-Ziemowit mine is between 2035 and 2037. It is still unclear when the closure of PG Silesia is to be expected, as it is a private company, not covered by the so-called social agreement between the state and the miners.

Employees from the mining and mining-related sectors who live in the Silesian Voivodeship will be supported under the Just Transition Fund. They will receive the largest share of the funds, amounting to more than EUR 2 billion. For this moment it is not known what will happen to employees from Malopolska, because due to the Tauron mines still operating and the lack of a plan to close them, this region is not guaranteed any funds for post-coal development.

To ensure continuity of employment and create new jobs for miners from Malopolska, the region must have a plan for further development. This is impossible without a timetable for the closure of Tauron’s mines. Concrete and realistic dates for the closure of the mines will ensure that, rather than stay stuck in a limbo, Western Malopolska receive money for a well-managed transformation away from coal and not be forced to repeat the mistakes of the 90s.

 

This article was first published in Polish by Rzeczpospolita daily.