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Russia: Miners' Protests For Unpaid Wages Grow

Moscow, 19 May 1998 (RFE/RL) - More labor unrest was reported across Russia today as workers demanded unpaid wages. Striking miners in the central Siberian town of Anzhero-Sudzhensk blockaded a stretch of the Trans-Siberian railway for a fifth day today, diverting trains to an alternate route that is hundreds of kilometers away. Miners from neighboring regions say they will join the protest tomorrow by sealing off the alternate route. Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleyev has said such an action would completely paralyze train movement between Moscow and the east of the country.

In the southern region of Rostov, over 2,000 coal miners blocked the North Caucasian railway for a second day. Besides wage arrears, the miners are demanding social protection for workers who would lose their jobs if unprofitable mines are closed.

Interfax reports Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko will meet with leaders of the striking miners tomorrow. Over the weekend, Kiriyenko announced measures to raise funds to pay the back wages. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov today met with coal operators and said the total debt to miners amounted to at least $1.4 billion.

Also today, about 200 scientists in Russia's Far East blocked a highway to protest low wages and drastic research cutbacks. The demonstrators from the Russian academy of Sciences said some of their salaries are as low as $50 a month. And in the nearby Khabarovsk region, a teachers' union complained that its members have not been paid since February.

The unrest comes just as the European Union's Executive Commission published a report addressing Russia and Ukraine's slow economic growth. The commission says recent political instability in Russia has cast doubt on its ability to achieve and sustain economic growth. But the Commission notes that last year, for the first time since it began its transition to a market economy, Russia achieved what it calls "positive, albeit modest growth" of 0.4 percent.

The Commission finds economic conditions in Ukraine even worse, and still deteriorating further. It says that political uncertainty and deadlock in Ukraine, unchanged by parliamentary elections seven weeks ago, continue to block the passage of key economic reforms. It says Ukraine suffered a 3.4 percent economic slump last year.

For more background, see Russia's Workers: Why They Go Without Wages