08/04/1998 09:59:00 Russian govt, miners mull compromise to end strike
By Denis Dyomkin
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Russian authorities
struggled with long-unpaid miners in the easternmost island of
Sakhalin on Tuesday to forge a compromise to end an 11-day
blockade of the Pacific region's key power station.
But a spokesman for the Sakhalin plant said far from all
miners were ready to accept the latest government offers aimed
at defusing a protest that could destroy the regional economy.
The island has had to switch to an emergency regime of
14-hour daily blackouts, causing much of the annual peak haul
fresh salmon and caviar to rot, unrefrigerated.
The local authorities offered the miners 10 million roubles
($1.5 million), or two months worth of back wages, if they
would free up the railroad to the plant.
"Half the miners agreed, but the other half is
categorically opposed and demands full payment of the debt,
some 80 million roubles," the spokesman said. Many of the
miners have not been paid since December.
"The negotiations are continuing. We are waiting on needles
and pins, because the power station is on the verge of shutting
Itar-Tass news agency reported earlier on Tuesday that the
miners had agreed temporarily to allow small shipments of coal
to reach the plant to prevent a complete shut down. But the
spokesman for the plant said he knew of no such firm agreement.
Sakhalin governor Igor Farkhutdinov was in Moscow for
meetings with influential Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov,
seeking a solution to the standoff.
Russia is trying to raise tax collection and cut spending
after winning a bail-out from international lenders last month.
In the Chelyabinsk region in the Ural mountains, governor
Pyotr Sumin has taken emergency safety precautions in case a
blockade of the trans-Siberian railroad threatened to cut off
fuel to a major nuclear treatment plant, a spokesman said.
Coal miners there have been blocking a rail junction for
more than a week.
The spokesman said the new measures, which primarily
involved placing health and security staff on heightened alert,
did not call for force to be used to clear striking miners from
the rail tracks.
In the past week Chelyabinsk authorities have paid out an
additional 22.5 million roubles due to the miners, the
spokesman said. Authorities were also launching criminal
investigations to see if money due the miners had been
embezzled by corrupt managers or middlemen.
Russian industry has been plagued by debt, with companies
failing to pay bills to one another or to the government. Many
companies have withheld wages from their employees.
The coal industry has been particularly hard hit. Many
mines are inefficient and costly, and corrupt middlemen have
been known to siphon off profits before miners can get paid.
A miners' picket in front of the Russian government
headquarters in Moscow has become a rallying point for
ultra-nationalists and Communists.
President Boris Yeltsin, who himself was brought to power
partly on a wave of coal mine strikes in 1991, has warned that
Russian politics could get more unstable as autumn approaches.
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