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 Wednesday, 1 January, 2003, 15:54 GMT
Poland's mines lose legal lifeline
Polish mine
Poland's mines are outdated and inefficient

A Polish Government bill which protects the country's mining industry from bankruptcy has expired - putting the jobs of thousands of miners at risk.

The government wants to restructure the industry and close several mines, but mining unions are threatening widespread industrial action.

With Poland on the verge of membership of the European Union, the government is under increasing pressure to reform its industries.

Polish shipyard workers
Industrial reforms are threatening thousands of jobs
However, despite the expiry of the bill, the government says it will continue to prevent bankruptcies during the next few months of negotiations with miners.

Many of Poland's mines are outdated and inefficient, inherited from the communist era.

The industry is one of the largest in Europe and employs 140,000 people.

But the government says that if it does not close seven pits and sack 35,000 miners, many more jobs will be lost because of competition from abroad.

The restructuring is timed to coincide with the expiry of the bill on 1 January.

Militant reputation

Early in December, miners voted overwhelmingly for industrial action.

The government's reaction was to try to find a compromise.

The miners have a strong reputation for militancy and have taken to the streets of the capital, confronting riot police with pickaxe handles and fireworks.

Union leaders are currently in negotiation with the government, which is trying to avoid a confrontation in the run-up to a referendum on European Union membership.

Poland is suffering from record unemployment, and, with a noisy Euro-sceptic campaign eager to blame all the country's problems on Europe, the government wants to steer clear of more job losses and economic bad news.

See also:

24 Sep 01 | Business
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