On 16 May, the workers of the ArcelorMittal railway workshop came out in support of the workers of Ukrzaliznytsia, the state-owned Ukraine Railway, who have been on strike to demand the creation of safe working conditions since 14 May.
Most of the Ukrzaliznytsia rolling stock has been in use since the 1960s, and 90 per cent is worn out. One investigation by the government health and safety authority found 83 violations, with some locomotives not having functioning brakes.
The Ukrzaliznytsia workers demand that all rolling stock be repaired to meet technical requirements, that wages are increased to European levels, that early retirement be introduced, and that the board of Ukrzaliznytsia resigns.
ArcelorMittal railway workers addressed an official statement to company management, saying that they refuse to operate faulty equipment that threatens their lives. They began work-to-rule industrial action, paralyzing rail transportation and stopping production.
Workers who had a day off on 16 May blocked pedestrian crossings on the company premises for several hours. In addition to improved safety, they demand a wage increase from the current 400 euros to 1,000 euros per month.
This was also the core demand of all employees involved in the collective labour dispute led by the IndustriALL affiliate Trade Union of Workers of Metallurgical and Mining Industries of Ukraine (PMGU) at the end of March. ArcelorMittal management tried to undermine a workers’ conference where employees intended to discuss their demands to the company by announcing that the venue had changed. The conference eventually took place but the company filed a lawsuit challenging its legitimacy.
The company also filed a complaint with the police, accusing the workers of taking illegal strike action. However, the police did not uphold the complaint, as the workers acted within the law. Ukrainian law on occupational health and safety allows workers to refuse to work in case of a high risk to life.
Management formed a special commission with participation of a PMGU representative to assess the condition of the rolling stock.
Natalia Marinyuk, chair of the PMGU trade union committee at ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih, says:
“PMGU has repeatedly emphasized that the delay in negotiations and conciliation procedures in general creates a critical situation and drives workers to despair.”
On 14 May, PMGU sent a letter to the CEO of ArcelorMittal Kryvyi Rih, once again expressingthe request to start constructive dialogue with the workers’ representative body and prevent spontaneous protests leading to work stoppages.
Vadim Borisov, regional secretary of IndustriALL, comments,
“IndustriALL Global Union calls on the employer to stop delaying the work of the conciliation commission and to come to the negotiating table. Ignoring workers’ interests and demands always leads to protests. People cannot tolerate disrespect for their problems any longer. Therefore, all responsibility lies entirely with management of the enterprise.”
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