As Bosnian coal miners strike, major utility warns of ‘uncertain’ power supplies

Bosnian utility company Elektroprivreda has warned of an “increasingly uncertain” electricity supply to customers amid strikes by thousands of coal miners for jobs and salaries of around 3 million in the Balkan State.

The director of state-owned Elektroprivreda Bosnia and Herzegovina, Admir Andelija, told reporters on November 24 that the company had already been forced to shut down two units of a thermal power plant in Tuzla, in the north of the country.

Thousands of employees from the company’s seven mines stopped work the day before to support their fellow miners who were protesting in the capital, Sarajevo, against government plans to pull out and restructure the coal industry.

The Western Balkans is plagued by some of the worst air pollution in Europe and the world.

Seventy-five percent of Bosnia’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, and a 2050 pledge to shut down the industry paved the way for dramatic economic and cultural change.

Union leaders said on November 24 that the miners would maintain “disobedience” that could prevent charcoal production.

Elektroprivreda is owned by the so-called entity government of the Muslim-Croatian Federation which represents half of Bosnia, with the predominantly Serbian Republika Srpska.

The company said in a statement that it was forced to operate the three blocks of a thermal power plant in Kakanj to fill the deficit in Tuzla, but that the stock of coal in Kakanj was only sufficient for “the 15. next days”.

Temperatures have dropped in southeastern Europe as winter approaches, with temperatures hovering around freezing.

Bosnia’s political institutions are also mired in years of crisis, as various factions still ruled by a 26-year peace deal to end the Bosnian war maintain a predominantly ethnic power-sharing, with a senior international representative helping to guarantee certain aspects of government.

On November 23, the Prime Minister of the Federation, Fadil Novalic, asked the speaker of the entity’s parliament to hold an extraordinary legislative session to discuss the miners’ claims.

He also urged the Federation’s Energy Minister, Nermin Dzndic, and Elektroprivreda boss, Andelija, to “urgently provide the government with information on the situation in the mines and the demands of the miners” who could be sent to inform lawmakers.

Dzindic is said to have invited the representatives of some 7,000 miners to negotiate.

But Sinan Husic, president of the federation’s miners’ union, told RFE / RL’s Balkan service late on November 24 that the miners were still awaiting a response to their demands from the federation government.

He said the union “had not received a decent response” by late afternoon.

“Our demands were not met,” said Husic. “We are not waiting any longer, we are going back to the coal mines. But we have active ‘worker’ disobedience, supported by the Miners’ Union. There is and there will be no coal production in coal mining. No production until all of our requirements are met. “

Dzindic called some of the miners’ demands “logical and we will accept them”, but added: “Some are illogical and we need to talk.”

Some of the demands relate to labor and pay, while others would call for changes in leadership among mine operators.

“It is impossible to replace seven CEOs of seven coal mines at a time,” Dzindic said. “It would cause the system to collapse.”

Union leaders said on November 24 that the miners would maintain “disobedience” that could prevent charcoal production. (archive photo)

A negotiating team has been formed to speak to the representatives of the miners, which includes representatives from the company and the ministry.

The federal government plans to restructure the indebted coal mines, with debts estimated at around 460 million euros, as part of a longer-term transition to cleaner energy.

The heads of six of the seven mines recently warned of difficulties and the possibility of bankruptcy, which they described as “inevitable” without restructuring, and which would result in “disruption” in the power grid, l economy and “social problems”.

The government’s restructuring plans are part of a plan to shift from heavy reliance on coal to renewable energy sources and reduce the number of workers to 5,200.

Earlier this year, representatives of both sides agreed to the plan.

But the recently announced labor regulations that include reduced wages are seen by unions as a repeal of collective bargaining.

Rosemary C. Kearney