By Bogdan Turek and Jan de Weydenthal
Katowice, 21 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Poland's government is planning a massive overhaul of the ailing coal mining industry to make it again viable.
Presenting the outline of the plan in the mining center of Katowice, Deputy Minister of Economy Jan Szlazak yesterday said that, within the next three years, it would involve closing down 24 out of more than 50 coal mines, eliminating about 67,000 jobs out of the current 237,000, slimming down production to 114,000 tons from the current 137,000 tons, but, also writing off about 7.9 billion zlotys of the mines' 13.6 billion zlotys debt.
Szlazak further said that the program of downsizing would continue into the next century, particularly through trimming employment to about 126,000 jobs in the year 2002.
The government hopes that as a result of those measures, the coal mining industry would become profitable again. Coal mining was once Poland's leading hard-currency earner, but fell on hard times during the last ten-to-15 years.
Szlazak said that the restructuring program will cost the government about 15 billion zlotys. This will include severance packages for miners, with one-time payments for those leaving employment averaging some 37,000 zlotys, and 75 percent of current monthly pay for those having up to three years until retirement age.
The government plans have already sparked criticism from labor unions. Those critics include officials from the mining section of the Solidarity labor union, the mainstay of the current center-right coalition government, as well as those from the leftist unions allied to the post-Communist Social Democratic Party.
The government said that it will consult with labor organizations before deciding to adopt the plan. To become operational, the plan will also have to be approved formally by the parliament.
The government's proposal is a part of a strategy to bring the economy in line with Western European countries. Poland is currently negotiating entry into the European Union, and one of the conditions of membership is the restructuring of ailing industries, such as mining, steel production and agriculture.
(1 dollar = 3.4 zlotys)