Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with the widows of miners who died in mining accidents in Vorkuta
3 march 2011
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Chairman of the Independent Russian Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers Ivan Mokhnachuk, leader of the regional organisation of Independent Russian Trade Unions Yevgeny Shumeiko and Severstal Group CEO Alexei Mordashov also took part in the meeting.
Transcript of the meeting:
Vladimir Putin: During the meeting, Mr Mokhnachuk (the leader of the regional organisation of Independent Russian Trade Unions) pinpointed a pressing problem that I believe has gone unaddressed for a long time. Please tell us about your concerns.
Ivan Mokhnachuk: Since Soviet times it has been a long-established tradition, especially in the Far North, for miners to pledge assistance to the families left behind after their fellow mine-workers died in accidents.
Vladimir Putin: You said: “Miners pledged assistance to the families of their fellow mine-workers who died in accidents.” Have I got it right?
Ivan Mokhnachuk: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: Which miners took on that responsibility?
Ivan Mokhnachuk: Those working in the same mine or for the same company.
Vladimir Putin: I see.
Ivan Mokhnachuk: That’s how it worked, and in the past we did manage to sort out these problems. But unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia inherited unsolved problems. When we began restructuring the industry in 1994, and many mines were closed down, grants were paid under a government resolution to resettle miners dismissed with the liquidation…
Vladimir Putin: … the liquidation of their companies?
Ivan Mokhnachuk: Yes. We paid 70% of resettlement costs to dismissed workers while the other 30% went to miners’ widows and the disabled so they could be resettled as well. When law no. 122, On the replacement of social welfare benefits with cash payments, was adopted, the relevant legal framework we had been acting under was cancelled. We resettled the miners who had been dismissed but not the widows. And that is why we have this problem today, especially in Inta, Vorkuta and across the entire Far North: those pledges have gone unfulfilled. People spent years on the waiting list… Resettlement is suspended. We have been trying to do something for years but it’s really tough, there’s no progress as yet.
Vladimir Putin: How long have you been on the waiting list?
N.K. Shchukina: Since 1992, when my husband died.
Vladimir Putin: Where was that –Inta or Vorkuta?
N.K. Shchukina: Vorkuta.
Ivan Mokhnachuk: In a Vorkuta mine.
N.K. Shchukina: We were on the waiting list, but in the end we, the families of those killed, and there are about a hundred families like us in Vorkuta, we just felt like we were in limbo. We write letters to everyone, all the way up the system, we have appealed to everyone: to the trade unions, municipal authorities and legislatures to solve our problem one way or another. We buried our husbands back home – we seldom bury our dead there, but we ourselves are stuck out there. We would like to leave but no laws apply to our predicament. We feel stranded, kind of…
Vladimir Putin: between the laws…
N.K. Shchukina: I really don’t know how to describe our problem…
Vladimir Putin: Was this an area regulated by law in the Soviet era?
Ivan Mokhnachuk: There was no proper law on such obligations. It was the miners’ own moral obligation, and no one obstructed them.
Vladimir Putin: And it came from the employers?
N.K. Shchukina: Yes, the employers themselves shelled out.
Vladimir Putin: And when were you put on the list?
N.I. Balanich: In 1999.
Ivan Mokhnachuk: Her husband died in 1995.
Vladimir Putin: Who has been on the waiting list the longest?
Ivan Mokhnachuk: The first fatal accident was…
Alexei Mordashov (Severstal Group CEO) …in 1961.
Ivan Mokhnachuk: No, the first fatal accident took place on December 2, 1958. The widow, who was born in 1925, still lives in Vorkuta.
Vladimir Putin: And she is still waiting?
N.K. Shchukina: You see, stranded widows and orphans are left here…
Ivan Mokhnachuk: She is still waiting to be resettled – and she is all alone.
Vladimir Putin: Since 1958?
Ivan Mokhnachuk: Yes, since 1958. She was born in 1925, and she still lives in Vorkuta.
N.K. Shchukina: We were just waiting patiently for our turn to come. Then suddenly it turns out there wasn’t any waiting list at all. We haven’t the slightest idea if we will ever get out…
We simply cannot do anything about it ourselves. Why? Take me – I work in a kindergarten. Bonuses included, I earn 10,000 roubles a month.
Ivan Mokhnachuk: She’s a first class specialist.
N.K. Shchukina: Kindergarten teacher. I am classified as a first class teacher, with 36 years’ experience – and I earn ten thousand! It was even less before. I brought up two sons. Now, of course they’re all grown up, and there’s no way I can get out by myself. What is there for us to do? Our husbands aren’t even there. We all want to leave.
Vladimir Putin: Are you in a similar situation?
N.I. Balanich: Yes. I brought up two children, too.
N.K. Shchukina: There are many like us.
N.I. Balanich: I managed to give them an education, now I have grandchildren. You know what it’s like, you feel you’ve got to help them all, but it’s just impossible.
Vladimir Putin: Do you also want to leave?
N.I. Balanich: Well of course I’d like to.
N.K. Shchukina: After all, we had the right to leave before – and not just the right. The company helped us.
Vladimir Putin: When did the company change hands?
Ivan Mokhnachuk: In July 2003.
Vladimir Putin: And there’s absolutely no way of amending the law quickly?
Ivan Mokhnachuk: We discussed it for a long time yesterday, and we had considered the matter before. Really, it is hard to change the legal basis with the help of other laws – there are too many additional circumstances. We thought we might do it within the framework of… After all, we have the law on coal mining and on miners’ social protection in case of company liquidation. Through that… now…
Vladimir Putin: Let’s do that.
We should think about a systemic approach to resolving problems of this kind. We will hold consultations with you, with the trade unions, the government and the ministry should also ponder it, and we will consult members of parliament. Anyway, the problem that you raised here today must be solved urgently.
N.K. Shchukina: We hope it will. Thank you for this meeting. All the women of Vorkuta – I mean all those who face the same problems – are waiting anxiously. They’re sitting there, glued to their phones, wondering what’s going to happen. We are really pinning our hopes that this problem will be solved on you.
Vladimir Putin: Let us agree with company shareholders on a fifty-fifty arrangement. A half of the necessary costs will come from the government reserve fund, and we will ask the shareholders to put up the other half. Agreed, Mr Mordashov?
Alexei Mordashov: Of course, Mr Putin, agreed. This is a very old problem, something we have known about for years and years. The company was not in an economic position to resolve it alone, so it’s very good that the government has come up with the initiative. We are, of course, ready and willing to get on board with this initiative and solve this acute problem together. We would like to support all aspects of the comprehensive solution to this problem that you have just mentioned.
Ivan Mokhnachuk: Yes, and it is vital that this is done in a timely fashion – no procrastinating. Enough is enough!
N.K. Shchukina: The fact is that many of us widows have followed their husbands to the grave, and the orphans left behind have an even smaller chance…
Vladimir Putin: Let us resolve the problem these miners’ widows face. Trade union people, company managers and shareholders should draw up lists together, specifying the region each individual wants to be resettled to, after all as you said: “We want to go back home.” But where is home?
N.K. Shchukina: We are all from different places.
Vladimir Putin: Where are you yourself from?
N.K. Shchukina: From Kazan. I was born there.
N.I. Balanich: I am from Makeyevka, but that’s the last place I want to go.
Vladimir Putin: So we need the lists of people specifying where they want to go. We will buy flats on the market to make it quick.
N.K. Shchukina: Good.
Vladimir Putin: I hope you will find this satisfactory.
N.K. Shchukina: So we’ll have flats – not housing certificates or anything else like that?
Vladimir Putin: No. We will buy flats that are on the market and pass them into your ownership.
N.K. Shchukina: That would be amazing! Many women are really worried and were very keen for us to raise this issue today.
Ivan Mokhnachuk: Yes, Mr Putin. That’s the right decision, because when we assigned housing certificates to families of employees dismissed when the companies went into liquidation, many people were enticed into all kinds of pyramid schemes and robbed. But purchasing the flats jointly under government supervision, then passing them on so they can move into them: that solves the problem in one fell swoop.
Vladimir Putin: So you will get flats, ready for you to move into, which will then become your property.
N.K. Shchukina: Thank you very much!