The Jagiellonian Instute commissioned a survey to find out what the miners expect from the government and what are their convictions, needs and fears. When asked when coal should be phased out is Silesia, the majority of miners replied that it should happen not later than in 20 years. Does this mean the miners would be willing to depart from coal earlier than the social agreement proposes, i.e. before 2049? – Bartłomiej Sawicki, editor at BiznesAlert.pl, writes.
Survey commissioned by the Jagiellonian Institute
The survey conducted among miners was to help in finding an answer to what coal mine workers were expecting from the government and what their convictions, needs and concerns were. The answers may contribute to working out solutions that are more flexible and will lead to a real energy transition in Silesia. The concerns shared by the miners in the survey may aid the design of incentives to retrain, offering a real perspective for a well-paid job in a different career. From the point of view of the state, solutions that are more bespoke could speed up the transition and coal phase-out with respect to the 80 thousand coal miners. This, in turn, is an important argument in the negotiations between Warsaw and Brussels.
The survey was conducted in April this year, the size of the sample was 600 residents from Ruda Śląska, Brzeszcz, Rybnik, Jastrzębie, Bieruń, Libiąż, Mysłowice and Czechowice Dziedzice: 150 miners, 150 partners of miners and 300 residents (not involved with mining). The surveyors used the computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) method.
Reluctance about the transition and fear of losing a job
The survey revealed that almost nine in ten miners (88 percent) do not want the coal phase-out to take place in Silesia. A little smaller percentage of businesses that cooperate with the industry (85 percent) share this opinion, whereas residents that are not involved with mining share this belief a lot less frequently (67 percent). Only every tenth miner (10 percent) supports the departure from coal, that figure is at 11 percent among their partners and is twice as high (22 percent) among residents.
Miners are clearly reluctant about the transition. It is probably caused by fear of change. Over 60 percent of miners are afraid of losing a job. Over 90 percent of the miners expect support in case they need to change a job, while almost half of them (47 percent) believe that their professional qualifications will not let them get a job outside of mining.
Miners say something different than residents
The views of miners are only partially reflected in the opinions of the Silesian residents that are not involved with the mining industry. Only 24 percent of them share the fear of losing a job. As many as 79 percent of the Silesian residents support miners receiving aid in case they need to change jobs, whereas 67 percent are against phasing out coal, that percentage is at 88 percent among miners.
The majority of miners may agree to a coal phase-out within 20 years
However, the most interesting part of the survey pertains to the pace of the energy transition and departure from bituminous coal extraction. According to the already initialled social agreement between the government and the social partners, coal extraction is to end in Poland in 2049, which is in almost 30 years. In the context of the accelerating energy transition, new CO2 emission reduction targets and departure from fossil fuels, the deadline may raise concerns about being too distant. In the context of the fact that 88 percent of the surveyed miners do not want to depart from coal, one could expect that the majority of miners will opt for delaying the coal phase-out for as long as possible. However, this is where the data is surprising. When asked when a coal phase-out in Silesia should happen, the miners that agreed to the departure were overwhelmingly in favor of this happening no later than in 20 years. According to the social agreement this should happen in 28 years.
The majority of the surveyed miners, businesses and residents believe that the phase-out should happen in five years. This idea is supported by about 40 percent of respondents, and miners constitute 33 percent of the people in this group. Residents (43 percent) and businesses (41 percent) support this deadline in bigger numbers. This indicator goes up in case of the deadline being in 10 years. As many as 20 percent of respondents supported this idea, and miners were the biggest group – 27 percent. As many as 27 percent of respondents agreed that the coal phase-out should take place in 20 years. From among the three groups the miner’s support for this idea is the highest – 27 percent. Only 13 percent of the respondents are for departing from coal in 30 years, which is what the social agreement says.
The survey, or to be more precise the answers to this question, clearly show that miners are reluctant about foregoing coal mining, but nevertheless they are capable of phasing out coal in Silesia in the next 20, not 30 years, as the agreement stipulates. This may be used by the government as an asset in the talks with the unions, if the European Commission doesn’t agree to the 2049 deadline. The social agreement needs to be notified by Brussels.
So, if the European Commission does not agree to 2049, because this deadline is too remote, and it will not agree to public help, then the government could decide to depart from coal earlier, for instance by 2040. The survey shows that the society could agree to this. Such a change could require a radical adjustment to the mine shutdown schedule, which is included in the social contract. The fourth chapter of the deal includes the dates of shut downs of specific bituminous coal mines until 2049. By that year, 18 coal mines in total are to be shut down. However, in return for the consent to subsidies, the Commission may want to shorten the life span of the mines. Whereas as many as 8 mines are to shut down after 2040, which is when the miners were ready to end coal extraction.
What in return?
The miners often agree to alternative solutions, that could slow down the coal phase-out, such as proper mine management (97 percent), or developing clean coal technologies (88 percent). Whereas these expectations are reflected in the social agreement. According to the deal, during the transition period, until Poland achieves climate neutrality, the below investments at an industrial scale will be prepared and conducted. This pertains to, among others, the construction of an IGCC coal gasification installation with CO2 capture, infrastructure for transporting the captured CO2 into an underground storage, the construction and adaptation of underground storage units to store the captured CO2 in a rock mass.
The miners more often agree than disagree with the statement that Poland should have already gone through the energy transition (64 percent), and that Silesia will do well without coal (77 percent). Most certainly the declarations about departure from coal are also responsible for the increased concern miners have about losing their jobs. Miners are most often concerned about the possibility of losing their jobs, over half of them are worried about this (62 percent). This figure is a little lower (53 percent) among their partners. The residents are a lot less concerned about this – only 24 percent of them share these concerns.
The loss of a job is a strong concern, both among miners (37 miners) and among their families (33 percent of partners). The fear of experiencing an accident at work is mentioned by 30 percent of miners and 32 percent of partners. Every fifth (21 percent) miner is concerned about both of those dangers, and 14 percent of their partners share this fear.
When it comes to changing their job, miners, importantly, are not focused on their industry only and 78 percent of them do not have a problem with pointing to a different sector that would be attractive to them. When assessing the attractiveness of the industries when it comes to changing their jobs, the miners pointed to such areas as: construction (33 percent), mining other than coal (31 percent) and transport (27 percent). Miners aged between 30 and 39 stated that construction was an attractive industry for them the most often (43 percent), for miners aged 40-49 that figure was at 30 percent. The same is true for 35 percent of people with basic vocational education and 37 percent of people with a high school degree. Over 50 percent of the youngest miners believe transport and motorization were attractive. Whereas over half of the miners with a higher education said renewable energy (50 percent), and conventional power industry (60 percent) were especially attractive for them. However, acquiring new qualifications is a very important change for miners. Especially that currently 47 percent of them believe that their professional qualifications do not allow them to find a job outside of mining. Almost 2/5 of them (39 percent) have a different opinion.
Does the social contract respond to such expectations? According to the deal, both parties proposed to create a fund, which will bankroll the establishment of a Polish e-car factory IZERA in the Jaworznicki Economic Zone, together with the infrastructure for contractors and related investments. The investment is to start by the second quarter of 2022, and the manufacturing is to start in 2024. The government is to draft legislative solutions that will make it easier to locate new investments in the above mentioned mining communes in the Silesian voivodship. What are those investments? We don’t know that yet. The government should fill this gap to meet the miners’ expectations.