Polish coal miners expand underground protest against closures


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WARSAW, Sept 23 (Reuters) - The number of miners protesting underground at mines owned by Poland's biggest coal producer PGG against government plans to restructure the industry doubled to over 400 on Wednesday, trade unions said.

The protest is rotary, the unions said, explaining that while some miners end their protest after hours and return to the surface, others replace them underground.

Some have been underground since Monday though. One miner fainted and was taken to hospital, unions said.

Though the number of protesting miners increased, unions were again negotiating with government representatives on Wednesday after 11-hour talks on Tuesday.

The protests in Poland's southern coal region were triggered by a lack of progress in talks between the unions, the government and management on the restructuring of the state-run PGG, which is running out of money because of falling demand and rising costs.

The unions were also angered by the climate ministry's update of Poland's energy strategy by 2040, which contained a faster than expected departure from coal.

The unions say that implementing the document would result in closing down coal mines by 2036.

European Union climate policies, which have added to the cost of burning fossil fuels rather than clean energy, combined with the impact of the coronavirus crisis, have pressured the government into more decisive steps to tackle loss-making coal mining.

"Protests won't help in anything today. They will not reverse the trends and will only make our work more difficult," Poland's Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin told private radio Zet earlier this week.

The miners plan massive protests on Friday in Ruda Slaska, southern Poland, where one of the coal mines set for accelerated closure is based and is a major employer in the town.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Barbara Lewis and Andrew Cawthorne)

((agnieszka.barteczko@thomsonreuters.com; +48226539700; Reuters Messaging: agnieszka.barteczko.reuters.com@thomsonreuters.net))

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