Miners in central Bosnia-Herzegovina face an uncertain future as the country prepares to gradually switch from coal to renewable energy sources.
Within a decade workers from the Abid Lolic pit, including miner Senad Kasumovic who has worked there for 28 years, will not have a job.
Kasumovic, whose brothers, father and grandfather have all worked in the Abid Lolic mine, said he hoped he could get a pension, just like members of his family had.
The mine’s director Adis Kasumovic added the closure of the mine would bring financial collapse to the region with its 15,000 inhabitants.
“The whole valley of Nova Bila is financially dependent on this mine,” he said as miners put on their work overalls and white helmets, ready to start their shift.
The miners were once a trademark of the ex-Yugoslav republic, rich in coal. A miner even features on one of the country’s banknotes. But Bosnia and its other Western Balkan neighbours, who all want to join the European Union, have pledged to reduce CO2 emissions and close coal mines and coal-fired plants by 2050 in line with the rest of Europe.
Following that plan, the Elektroprivreda BiH (EPBiH) power utility, owned by the government of Bosnia’s autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation, plans to restructure its seven indebted coal mines and cut the number of employees to 5,200 from the current 7,200 over the next three years.
The scale of the debt owed by the coal mines to their creditors is 920 million Bosnian marks ($574 million) according to Admir Andelija, EPBiH’s general manager.
Miners’ trade unions have announced a general strike and subsequent protests unless their requests for socially-sensitive restructuring have been respected.
The government and EPBiH say that most of the redundant workforce are administrative workers who will be offered pre-qualifications.
Some will be transferred to EPBiH’s new companies and others offered severance payments, with all due benefits paid.
The federation’s Energy Minister Nermin Dzindic said the restructuring plan was the last chance for the Bosnian mines to survive.
But even though the government says that no miner will lose their job in the process, thousands of families traditionally employed in the mining industry fear they will remain jobless as the country has yet to develop alternative job schemes.
Ecologist Anes Podic said the pressures on the coal industry were less driven by the need to shift to renewable energy sources, and more to inefficiency and corruption.