Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with coal miners in Novokuznetsk


Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends,

I visited the Polosukhinskaya coal mine a year ago, and I've recently had a series of meetings with those who work at the Raspadskaya coal mine for the sad reason, unfortunately, of discussing the aftermath of the tragedy that hit this coal mine in early May.

You perhaps understand the situation better than me. Today I'll hold a meeting of the government commission on the restoration of the (Raspadskaya) coal mine here to discuss measures to stop the destruction that, unfortunately, continues. As you know, the fire hasn't been extinguished yet. But before this meeting, I'd like to speak with you, those who have worked underground in the coal mine, to hear your opinion on what has happened, what's being done in the aftermath of the tragedy, and what else should be done.

I'm not going to make any long and lofty speeches here. I just would like to hear your opinions, answer your questions, if you have any, and discuss problems. Let's start. Please.

Yury Novosyolov: Hello, I'm Yury Novosyolov, the chief of the crew at sector 5 of the Raspadskaya coal mine. I've worked here for almost 30 years. Safety issues have always been our top priority, and it should remain so in the future. The recent tragedy has shown that we've missed or overlooked something.

Safety issues are managed by the coal mine owners and a lot of money goes to safety arrangements. We buy equipment, spend money on safety and pay taxes. I'd like to ask whether we could withhold these taxes, a part of them, to buy equipment and improve safety. We just need more money to buy equipment. We have little equipment that was produced in Russia; we bought most of our equipment from abroad. So that's my question.

Vladimir Putin: You know safety is interconnected with a number of issues, primarily equipment and technology. It's true that much was done to improve safety at the Raspadskaya coal mine, but we see what happened there. This tragedy showed that the safety measures, the equipment and the solutions used to ensure safety fell short of their target.

I've mentioned before - and you might have heard it - that the expenditures for safety programmes were increased ninefold in recent years, to the best of my knowledge. Meanwhile, coal production has grown, and you know like no one else that if production grows, the area of a coal mine should be expanded, and then more has to be done to ensure safety at new facilities. Certainly, it's the experts that can assess whether this ninefold increase in funding has been adequate. It's necessary to make another review of what the money was spent on and how effectively it was used.

As far as the exemption from customs duties, taxes and levies on the purchase of equipment to ensure safety in hazardous working conditions, yes, we could consider this issue. But we should bear in mind that it could be done with state funds only, not with the money of shareholders or the coal mine owners. Defaults on tax and levy payments result in a decrease in budget revenues.

At the same time, in our estimate, the effectiveness of the industry is now high enough to allow the shareholders and owners of these companies to increase investments in safety. But I repeat, I promise that we'll consider this issue. We'll support the owners, relieving their burden even though it will result in lower budget revenues. We'll consider this issue.

Next question, please.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, may I?

Vladimir Putin: Sure.

Mikhail Shutov: My name is Mikhail Shutov. I've worked in the coal mining industry since 1974 and at the Yuzhkuzbassugol coal mines since 1975. I have been a technical inspector of the Russian trade union of coal miners in Novokuznetsk since 2009. Here's my question: in 2008, the government adopted Resolution No. 870 and the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development issued a related decree in 2010, but neither document says anything about the 24 days off that coal miners were given for working underground.

Vladimir Putin: Twenty-four days of holiday you mean?

Mikhail Shutov: Yes, of holiday. A coal miner's holiday consists of the basic 28-day holiday, an additional 24 days off for working underground, and an extra 14 days off to compensate for the detrimental and hazardous workplace conditions.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Mikhail Shutov: So, the 14 days off specified in the government resolution were reduced to only nine days, with nothing said about the 24 days off. What, have they been canceled? And a coal miner's holiday will consist of only two parts now? The nine days off for detrimental and hazardous conditions and the 28 days of the basic part of the holiday? I'd like to hear your answer.

Vladimir Putin: What does the labour contract say about it?

Remark: Nothing.

Vladimir Putin: Is this how it is regulated in the industrial agreement?

Remark: No, we haven't agreed on the terms yet.

Mikhail Shutov: The members of the commission on the industrial agreement...

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Remark: We did not reach an agreement with employers, and, regrettably, this is why there is a reference to this resolution.

Vladimir Putin: Let's do the following. As you know this industrial agreement is now being revised because of the need or... yes, because of the need, I believe. I insist that the wages should be revised and that the permanent component of these wages should be increased to 70%. On the whole, the employers have accepted this. I met with them and discussed this with many of them. I also met with trade unions separately.

Experts are currently working on this industrial agreement. Let's return to this part of it as well. I was promised that the work on the industrial agreement would be completed no later than July 5 of this year. There is not much time left. This will be an additional issue, but I will raise it.

Mikhail Shutov: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You're welcome.

Question: May I ask a question?

Vladimir Putin: Sure!

Question: My name is Alexander Yazovsky.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, Mr Yazovsky.

Alexander Yazovsky: I've worked in the coal industry for 45 years and at the Raspadskaya mine for 34 years. In the last two months I've been dealing with trade unions. I'm deputy chairman of the trade union. I have this question: we have launched the presidential programme of increasing the birth rate, but...

Vladimir Putin: But this... this is not my programme!

Alexander Yazovsky: No?

Vladimir Putin: This was your pogramme. I simply wanted to support it.

Alexander Yazovsky: I see. The problem is that we are following the programme, but there are no seats in the kindergartens.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is a problem.

Alexander Yazovsky: In other words, one thing was done and the other forgotten.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree.

Alexander Yazovsky: It would be good if the government could fix this problem.

Vladimir Putin: I agree. Indeed, we have found ourselves in a predicament. Do you know how this developed? When we made a decision on the demographic programme, we wanted to upgrade the material and medical support for women or families that had decided to have a second child. In fact, this programme is simply aimed at encouraging families to have a second child. And this decision required huge financial investment. The maternity capital alone will amount to 317,000 roubles this year because we are constantly adjusting it for inflation.

Yet, as you know, despite the crisis, we decided to allow the payment of 12,000 roubles without any terms to all those who are entitled to it. I'm referring to the three conditions: the capital must be used on a pension for a woman, for the education of her children or for acquiring housing.

Incidentally, we've slightly adjusted this position. Now, even those families that want to build a house themselves, without construction organisations, can also use this money.

Women were also entitled to a medical birth certificate that they could use in the medical institutions that served them the best. This money would be used to increase the salaries of doctors and nurses in that particular institution. In this way, we wanted to provide an incentive for improved services in women's health clinics, maternity hospitals, etc. And, by the way, this produced results.

But I must be honest -- when we were doing all that almost nobody believed that it would work, but it did work and the birth rate started going up!

However, regrettably, in the mid-90s all these preschools were squandered - repurposed, sold or transferred to other agencies.

Obviously, it would be difficult to restore them. Strictly speaking, this is the responsibility of either the cities or the regions. This is not the federal government's problem.  We will do everything we can to encourage authorities in cities and regions to resolve this problem. We will help them by supporting their budgets over time from the federal budget. Whole programmes have been drafted in some regions, for instance, in Moscow. Do you have such programmes in Kuzbass?

Remark: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Well, you have such a programme, so the problem exists. Preschool facilities that were sold or transferred are being returned whenever possible. In cases where this is impossible, new nursery schools will have to be built. There are also other forms, for instance, family preschool care centres. We will move forward on all of these fronts, but it is obvious that this problem exists. You are right about this.

Remark: Thank you. Can I ask you another question?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, certainly.

Remark: I'm interested in a miners' pension.

Vladimir Putin: How old are you?

Yazovsky: Sixty-eight. Why? (Laughter). I'd like to say that in the near future, in the Soviet Union, a miners' pension was...

Vladimir Putin: You mean in the past.

Yazovsky: Sorry.

Vladimir Putin: Perhaps you want to restore the Soviet Union? (Laughter)

Yazovsky: ... 176 roubles, okay? That was enough for a miner to fly to Sochi... It cost 55 roubles or thereabouts.

Vladimir Putin: I have just met with some women, the widows of the miners who died, and one of them raised this very question.

Yazovsky: The pension today - I've been in the mining industry for 45 years - is 12,000 roubles. That amount won't get me to Sochi; they'll throw me off the plane somewhere before Adler, not to speak of a return trip.

Vladimir Putin: Adler is not a bad place.

Yazovsky: Yes, of course, I completely agree with you. (Laughter)

Vladimir Putin: Seriously, though, I agree with you. You get 12,000 roubles?

Yazovsky: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: And the average pension in the industry is still less, 8,800 roubles.

Yazovsky: That's exactly my point.

Vladimir Putin: I was just saying that a year ago I met with your colleagues at another coal mine and the miners there also asked this question. Almost at once I submitted a draft law to the State Duma that would have employers add an additional 6.7% to the Pension Fund for each employee. Unfortunately, the adoption of this law was delayed, but we eventually got it through. The law has been passed and will come into effect on January 1, 2011. That means that the miners will have their pensions raised by 7,700 roubles.

Yazovsky: One more question if I may.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Yazovsky: I understand that you are raising our pensions, yes?

Vladimir Putin: As of January 1, 2011.

Yazovsky: I see. But who will regulate prices? No sooner did you (I mean the government) raise pensions, you raised pensions by 6.3% in April, and then the markets raised prices by 8-10%. Something needs to be done about this. The state should keep these matters under control.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree. I must tell you frankly that it is a tricky question. You cannot solve it by administrative methods. You cannot just forbid the raising of prices. This is just impossible, unless we want to be back in the Soviet Union, which ceased to exist because it failed economically.

I won't go into details. Actually, if the Soviet Union had an effective economy it would have had a solid defence and social base and it would not have collapsed. But because we had one sector that was overblown while the other part of the economy was underfunded, people stopped being aware of the danger of the collapse of their country. And it happened.

Of course, today we have to use other methods. What methods? It may seem to be far removed from what you said, but actually these things are closely linked. Let me be clear. Next year we will do all we can to contain the growth of prices charged by natural monopolies, to contain the growth of gas prices for industrial consumers, the growth of electricity prices for industrial consumers, the growth of railway tariffs for industrial consumers, and all these things together... The prices for pipeline transport. 

Yet, there is another problem there.  As soon as we keep their tariffs down, their investment potential diminishes. Railways will order fewer rails and fewer wagons, which means that steelworkers will order less coal from you and your output will go down. These issues only seem to be simple. I urge you not to believe those who say that tomorrow the government will forbid prices to be raised. This is idle talk and it can only result in economic collapse. But, it is impossible not to agree with you that the government should seek to keep prices down. You are absolutely right. By the way, you may want to know that the current rate of inflation - and inflation is the rate of price growth - is the lowest in the recent history of the Russian Federation. We will work in that direction. Next question.

Question:  It is not quite clear; some kind of schedule should be arranged so that everyone could file applications by 2011. You see, 2011 is approaching and the Pension Fund keeps silent. In 2011 there will be a scramble, people will come running and there will be an awful mess with these applications. It should be done in an orderly fashion, the timing and all that.

Vladimir Putin: A strict schedule is needed. I agree. I will do it and I will give such instructions to the Pension Fund so that they do not put it off until the last day.    

Response: Exactly!

Vladimir Putin: Incidentally, we have preserved the preferential pension age for miners, as I am sure you know the pension age is reduced to fifty for men who have worked ten years underground and to forty-five for women who have worked seven and a half years underground.

Question: Some mines are in outlying areas. You know about this I am sure, they have been mentioned on many occasions. According to Article 94 of the Labour Code, employers have the duty - or, rather, the right, with consent from the trade unions, to set the rotas for those working underground. We could put up with this, were it not for the concluding point, which reads: "on condition of conformity with health standards". These health standards are downright impracticable. One section insists on daylight, and it goes on...

We ask you to leave everything as it is but abolish these health standards.

Vladimir Putin: So these clauses need to be tidied up?

Miner: Yes, this needs to be resolved at the legislative level so we can ...

Vladimir Putin: ... abide by the law and not leave it on paper. To improve it.

Miner: Precisely. We ask you to settle the problem.

Vladimir Putin: Understood.

Miner: Preserve the 30 hour workweek but abolish those norms.

Vladimir Putin: We will improve it, these are clauses that cannot be implemented, they are a total fiction. I agree, we'll tidy it up. I will issue the corresponding instructions, and we will work on it.

Miner: Some of us work six hours a day and spend three hours commuting: an hour and a half each way.

Vladimir Putin: Please phrase it so it's all clear, on paper.

Gennady Mozharovsky: Mr Putin, I am Gennady Mozharovsky from the Raspadskaya mine. I have a question for you.

You will raise my pension by 7,000 to 7,500 roubles, so my pension works out as 15 to 17 thousand roubles a month. Workers retire as soon as they reach the pension age after working for twenty, twenty-five or even thirty years. They are chronically ill. What is 15,000 roubles to them?

Vladimir Putin: That indicates that pension support should be increased.

Gennady Mozharovsky: I finished treating my hand three days ago, it needed ten injections that cost me over two thousand roubles - but I have other ailments, too. My spine and legs ache, and I have problems hearing. These are all our occupational illnesses, to say nothing of lung problems. Many miners suffer from them.

So what does 15,000 mean to us? It's barely enough to make ends meet. Sure, another 7,500 roubles is good but still ...

Vladimir Putin: Mr Mozharovsky, I said that the average pension in the coal industry is currently 8,800 roubles a month, so a 7,700 rouble rise almost doubles it.

Gennady Mozharovsky: That's a good start, for a transition period. But that does not mean this is the end of it. We're talking about the prestige of our profession, after all.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Gennady Mozharovsky: So that young people want to go into mining.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Mozharovsky, what have we been doing since the start of this year? You surely know that we have raised all pensions by 46%. It amounts to 700 billion roubles countrywide! But, as you also know, we are all rational people. Should we devote the entire budget to paying pensions and stop all spending on education, health and defence? It is impossible to improve pensioners' life in one fell swoop. You might have the impression that I think you are wrong. Quite the contrary, I see your point. Whenever I tell my colleagues abroad that we have raised all pensions by 46% in a single year, they say, shocked: "That's impossible!"

Response: During the downturn.

Vladimir Putin: That is not important. Such things are never done without a downturn. I think it was our duty to do it for our older generation. So miners' pensions will almost double from next year: increasing by 7,700 roubles a month against today's coal mining industry average of 8,800. I agree with you that this should be only the beginning. People working in difficult, high-risk conditions, as miners do, need further improvements more than anyone else.

Vladimir Dobrynin: Mr Putin, I am Vladimir Dobrynin, crew foreman at Raspadskaya production section 8. Please specify what you have said about pension increases. They concern only unemployed pensioners, am I right? It isn't a proper raise but just a bonus, right?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Vladimir Dobrynin: So employed pensioners won't get it?

Vladimir Putin: That's possible. We should double-check that. I don't want to misinform you.

Aman Tuleyev: It was only the first step and it had to be done. There are many sensitive problems which still need to be resolved...

Vladimir Putin: You understand where the problem lies, as I mentioned, I submitted the draft law to the State Duma almost a year ago. The Duma quashed it. I had to return to it twice. Only on the third time I said: "Please pass it immediately." A great many lobbyists with vested interests were loathe to see it passed. Besides, I am perfectly aware of grudges one might bear against property owners, especially in the light of this tragedy. There is much to delve into, with which to confront the bosses.

But they must be given credit for keeping the industry afloat despite it all. Coal mining is, in general, in a decent state: in terms of the economy, I mean. Safety is another matter. As I said at the beginning of our chat, the tragedy demonstrated that not enough was done in terms of the safety of production arrangements and its equipment. However, the economic situation in mining is not at all bad, aside from those problems related to the economic crisis. But admittedly those problems are not the mine owners' responsibility.

Bearing that in mind we should discuss the resolution of all the other problems, whether or not they pertain to pensions.

Nonetheless, to be frank, the mine owners did everything they could to bury the new law. I think - no, I know from the objections they raised from the start - that they would find it difficult to fund an increase in deductions of 6.7% per worker.

But do you know why I mentioned the current economic situation in the industry, which is not bad? Government experts have done their calculations and concluded that the increase would be quite affordable under normal conditions. That was why we endorsed the law. However, we should act with the utmost care to make sure that no excessive burdens are placed on any particular company or on the industry as a whole, because that would mean mines closing. After all, if there is no surplus, it becomes economically unviable and mines are closed - that's it.

This is why it is so important to have educated people in the trade unions, for these calculations, or at least that they hire experts for the job. A trade union activist should not rely on his own calculations, rather he should be able to select the right expert for this economic analysis and say: "These social duties are objective and justified, and do not risk ruining the company, let alone the entire industry."

We think this 6.7% is absolutely affordable. Nothing terrible will happen as a result. Later, we will monitor the industry as before and promote its development.

However, we will demand that proprietors bear their share of responsibility for social welfare and production safety.

Nikolai Syrov: I am former face crew foreman at the Raspadskaya mine, and I have chaired its local trade union since April. I want to return to its performance and take stock of the situation.

Our mine paid great attention to safety, and purchased cutting-edge equipment. Everything was done to ensure people had a safe working environment. The latest foreign equipment was imported to monitor safety. I still can't get my head around the tragedy that struck the Raspadskaya mine... that it should happen here, in our mine. There were no warnings. I think only the commission will be able to understand why the accident happened and how... Sorry, I am too nervous to go on ...

Vladimir Putin: That's okay, no rush. It happens when there's a large audience, cameramen, when one wants to say everything there is to say, and then forgets it there on the spot. Start all over again from the beginning. You're not alone, it could happen to anyone. It's all fine.

Nikolai Syrov: Well, I meant to say that Raspadskaya was the last place where we would have expected an accident. No use blaming anyone. No one is to blame. We can't rule out a terrorist attack. It could be one theory the investigators are considering. Then, experts say the impossible does occasionally happen!

Vladimir Putin: You know, as I said at the beginning of our chat, and let me repeat it now, the Raspadskaya mine had really done a great deal in terms of production safety. Everyone understands this, one only need look at its expenditures on safety equipment. Still, there was a tragedy, which means that not enough was done. That's the first point.

Next, and now you know what I am going to say better than I do because you are a miner and have worked down the mine your entire life. The production area was expanded.

Boring machines were working and the area was stuffed with electric equipment. Was the safety gadgetry you purchased and installed sufficient for this new area?

Nikolai Syrov: I now think it was not sufficient. Ventilation also increased. Was it for nothing?

Response: The roadway cross-section increased, and air intake doubled. There was some extra air, too.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, but these issues have to be looked into thoroughly. I have just met with the widows of the miners who died, and they are raising this issue. I can understand them. I made a promise to them and we will carry this matter through. At any rate I hope that the Investigation Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office will carry this matter to its conclusion. I have sensed that you feel that the investigators are being too tough and are not giving the management a chance to do all the restoration work, they drag them in for interrogations and so on... I have talked with the representatives of the Investigation Committee and have asked them to work in such a mode as not to impede the normal work of the management. But we must find out the causes.

Voice: We are interested in finding out the causes too.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. You are interested and people at other mines are interested. We are aware of other accidents when modern equipment had been installed, all bought from Great Britain - this is not about Raspadskaya, this is about another mine - and then some top manager botched some data on the computer. They went down the mine themselves and later died, including those who had caused it. Well, at least people should have a sense of self-preservation.

Number two. Of course control and supervision measures must be toughened. You know that my position is that the Federal Service for Supervision of Environment, Technology and Nuclear Management should be given back the right to suspend the operation of a mine. But it should be qualified by restrictions that would preclude an increase of corruption and blackmail of the mine's management ("Pay or else we will shut down your mine").

And I think there the role of the trade unions is very important. The trade unions are your representatives. In my opinion, the decision to close a mine should be taken at least with the consent of the trade unions, that is, if an inspector comes and sees that the gas concentration is inadmissibly high, he or she must demonstrate it to the management and to the trade union leader to make sure that this is a reasonable decision.

Second, Rostekhnadzor must have the right to temporarily, pending a court ruling, suspend the manager of an enterprise for gross and repeated violations of safety rules.

If we increase the overall responsibility we will improve safety. We have already discussed it: there should be zero tolerance of any violations, somebody smoking and saying that he cannot go without a smoke for five hours or if matches and cigarettes are found. Let us get this matter straight. You must say: for the sake of our own safety the rules must apply to everyone: to those who work, those who organise the work and the owners. Common rules must be worked out, the responsibility must be shared, there must be control and you should take it for granted.

The owners should not feel hurt if we pass a new law on civil responsibility insurance which will make them fully responsible for unscripted situations and tragedies if they happen. They must be aware of their responsibility, they must know that they will have to pay huge social compensations if unfavourable or dire consequences ensue. We should create conditions in which it would make sense for them to invest in real safety and not safety on paper.

Those who work underground must also be aware of their responsibility. Inside the work teams no violations should be tolerated. Of course violations are not widespread, but they need not be widespread. If the gas concentration is high and one out of a hundred people lights a cigarette, that's it.

A. Lelyukh: I've been working at the mine since 1980. I will not presume to draw conclusions on behalf of the commission, but I think that one factor is that we have such a huge space that has already been worked out, a huge distance. It is not filled with anything except methane.

Vladimir Putin: More than 300 km.

A. Lelyukh: 300 km is the tip and the space from which coal has been removed is even larger. There are huge "pockets" near every coal tip. They are in such a position that the gas that gets there is concentrated at the top. Apparently when the first local explosion occurred, part of the methane was pushed into the main tunnels. Then it all mixed up to create the most dangerous concentration - truly one case in a million - and then the second blast occurred. Could it be put into a law like the law on recultivation of land when trees are planted on the coal faces. As it is, the space is not recultivated, even methane is not pumped off. And that is technically possible.

Vladimir Putin: You should install an air purification device.

Voices: Bore holes at least to remove the gas.

Vladimir Putin: Quite right. You know, a group of experts, scientists from other cities is working there. The governor was right: we have approached specialists from other countries to ask them to share their ideas and look into the situation. They have their own experience. It is not about adopting a new law. Specialists, experts and scientists must give their recommendations. Once they give their recommendations we will examine them and if necessary we will put them into law or supportive legislation. But on the whole I fully agree with you. I have nothing to add.

A. Lelyukh: There have been precedents even in my memory. We were working, sinking a well into the space from which coal had been removed. We could not move because gas was pressing. We drilled a hole in the empty space, the gas moved in there due to natural draft. The air coming out of the well was 70% methane. That solved our problem.

Vladimir Putin: All right. We will have a meeting today and I will formulate what you have said now and give instructions to discuss your proposal.

A. Lelyukh: This is also money down the drain, gas also costs money.

Vladimir Putin: No, that gas does not cost anything. The gas that is in the horizons should be handled differently. There exist methods of extracting gas from shale or from coal. In the United States they extract it from shale. In this country Gazprom has developed a method of extracting it from coal. One can combine gas and coal extraction. And that of course will increase safety.

Aman Tuleyev: The well is already operating, Mr Putin.

A. Lelyukh: I remember, there was a flare by the roadside Mine 5/6. We called it the "eternal flame". Methane was siphoned off from somewhere and burnt. You rode in a bus and you saw it flickering, that is, no methane was left. In addition to purifying that gas in the process of extraction we prevented it from accumulating there, we gave it an outlet. This was one of the factors at Raspadskaya.

Vladimir Putin: That may be the case, although one cannot tell for sure at this point. Some experts say that the second blast may have been caused by another factor, the lifting of the dust.

A. Lelyukh: Yes, dust plus methane plus air. But the methane burst out of the empty space and then it was all mixed up.

Vladimir Putin: You may be right. In any case, even if one assumes that this was not the fateful factor one should think about removing the gas anyway. You are right.

A. Lelyukh: It is methane all the same.

Vladimir Putin: We will discuss it today for sure.

Question: I am a team leader at Raspadskaya mine. I have a question. The governor negotiates with the owners the compensation in the event of accidents. Could this be put into a law that would make it the duty of the owners to pay compensation to the injured and the families of the dead? Even in individual cases because at present these millions are only paid when there is a group of victims. There are many individual deaths when families lose their breadwinner.

Vladimir Putin: That is an important question. I discussed it today with the women, the widows of the dead miners. They also raised this question. I have already mentioned it. We have introduced a law on insurance at the State Duma. The law would increase the responsibility of the owners of enterprises with hazardous working conditions, above all, miners. Yes, it will place a financial burden on the owners, on the shareholders. But I think this is reasonable. We will make sure that this law is passed.

Aman Tuleyev: When there are one or two victims, there are no such compensations and questions begin to be asked. During the meeting with the widows of the victims, Mr Putin issued an instruction and we are already working to include 70% as fixed pay in employment contracts. And we will also include your point, so that everybody gets compensation.

Vladimir Putin: But it must be written down in the law. I repeat, the law is pending before the State Duma. Perhaps it needs some amendments. But the basic and fundamental things you have mentioned now that make the owner responsible for the social support of accidents regardless of the number of victims and the scale of the disaster, must be guaranteed in the law.

Voice: It should be done under the law so that we don't have to go to court.

Vladimir Putin: You won't have to go to court. Everything has been decided.

Voice: At present only individual cases are considered by the law courts.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I agree. But everything has been decided, as you know. We have already transferred all the money to the region's account. The government passed a decision to disburse one million roubles.

Aman Tuleyev: It's the first time the government has given a million.

Vladimir Putin: In the event it is the first time; it's money from the government reserve. And the owners have made available another million.

Support is coming from four sources: one million from the government's Reserve Fund, one million from the owners, and various allowances from the regional budget and from the federal budget under current legislation (annual wage, compensation for children and so on).

A. Vasin: I have a question. A tragedy has occurred. We do not have a hospital compound in Mezhdurechensk. The victims had to be taken to other cities. All the serious cases were taken to other cities and this is a situation when every second counts, and we do not have our own hospital.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is a separate topic. We will think about it. Do they have a clinic or a hospital? How many beds do they have?

A. Vasin: The hospital exists, but it has to be equipped. The compound has yet to be completed.

Vladimir Putin: A bad hospital?

A.Vasin: Very bad.

Aman Tuleyev: There is a specialised centre, for which you personally earmarked money, Mr Putin. It is in Leninsk-Kuznetsky. It is the best in Russia and probably the best in the world, but it is far from Mezhdurechensk.

Vladimir Putin: So you have to build a hospital with a smaller number of beds. Do you remember how many beds you have now? Is it an old or a new building?

Voice: An old one. They started building a new one but abandoned it because of lack of money.

Vladimir Putin: Strictly speaking, it is the responsibility of the region to build hospitals and clinics. It is a good question considering that there are many hazardous enterprises. Let us think about it together, discuss it with the governor and the federal budget will splash out, and the governor will give some of his money. Next year we are launching a new major healthcare programme. We will see how to fit it into the federal programme. Next question.

V. Shvetsov: A disaster, a terrible disaster has happened. Will the state help the mine or not?

Vladimir Putin: Of course it will. I have just said so, but I can repeat it. Help will come from four sources: the federal budget, the government's Reserve Fund...

V. Shvetsov: I mean the restoration of the mine.

Vladimir Putin: The restoration of the mine? Of course we announced at once that we were ready to offer loans, good loans. We are ready to give other kinds of support to the owners. If necessary we will address the issues raised here about taxes and levies, although it is not very welcome to grant exemptions in individual cases. So far, though, they haven't asked for anything although the damage will be great. According to preliminary assessments, first of all, restoration can only start once the accident is over and the fire is put out. Are there any people in this room who work there now?

Voice: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: I must say that I take off my hat to those who are working there now. The conditions are very harsh.

Voice: All the equipment is being brought in...

Vladimir Putin: More than that: everything has to be done manually...

Voice: They have to carry it manually...

Vladimir Putin: Carry it on their backs. The worst of it is that the machinery is there but it cannot be used. First of all we have to put an end to the accident, extinguish the fire, and second, only after the experts have a plan of restoration and it is approved - only then can restoration begin in earnest, although I understand that they are trying to restore something already. But the full restoration can only begin after the plan is presented and approved by experts. The estimated cost is about 10 billion roubles. That is a great burden on the shareholders, on the owners. They will have to pay that money out of their pockets. If they need help, I repeat, we will lend a hand. But they must state clearly what they need. According to preliminary estimates, the mine can and must be restored.

It has a workforce of 3,500 today. A large workforce. About a thousand people are on leave or on sick leave, 450,000 have got jobs at other enterprises, mainly at two mines and the rest for now are engaged in rescue and relief work. But I repeat, according to preliminary assessments, the mine can and must be restored.

If government help is needed we will provide it.

Question: Can the people who are working on restoring the mine be given some extra incentives? They are working in appalling conditions. They go down after an accident and the air is awful; people are working in very bad conditions. Is there any chance of providing them with more incentives?

Vladimir Putin: We have discussed this with Mr Tuleyev. They are discussing it with the shareholders. I understand that it's about the difference in wages. Is that what you have in mind?

Voice: Just to attract people, to give them an incentive to work properly.

Vladimir Putin: What incentive?

Voice: Raise their wages.

Vladimir Putin: That is exactly what I am talking about. You understand that this is not within our competence. It has to be decided here at the mine. In principle such a decision can be made. The problem is, as I said, the different pay rates. But today everybody is doing practically the same work and that must be reflected in their wages.

Voice: Our average wages are different.

Vladimir Putin: Well, yes.

Voice: So what we see is that some were paid 50,000 at the time of the accident...

Voice: We do exactly the same work but our average wages differ.

Vladimir Putin: That is what I meant. The average wage is different, but the work they do is the same. We will discuss it today. I mentioned it at the very beginning.

Question: May I ask you another question?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Question: I have a personal request. I set it down in this short note... Shall I pass it on to you?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. I'll look at it.

K. Pustogachev: I would like to raise another topic. We have many young employees. Our main problem is housing, we need somewhere to live. We cannot afford to take out a mortgage because we are young specialists. Either the interest rates should be cut or our wages should be raised if we are to solve our housing problem.

Vladimir Putin: That is right. There are several ways, and the main way is wages and the prices of housing. I hope prices will not grow fast this year. And wages in the country and in the industry on average will grow faster than inflation. But for young employees we create - and I think this is the case in the Kemerovo Region too - special programmes to subsidie mortgage rates. It is a viable and effective way to solve the housing problems for those who are starting their careers.

In many regions young people enjoy considerable discounts when acquiring housing. And if they have a child they enjoy additional discounts. When they have a second child, there are more discounts. We will discuss this with the governor. But I think the Kemerovo Region could well apply this experience. Is that all?

Voices: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. All the best to you, I wish you success. And you know, there is another issue that worries everyone. Everybody wants to see the accident rescue works over, the mine to be restored and to start working. But nobody wants to see more tragedies happen during the course of this work. Today I will talk with the mine managers and the industry managers and I want to urge you: please, show a maximum of caution. Nothing is more precious than human life. I wish you all the best. Goodbye.

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