Brussels approves state aid scheme to alleviate social costs of the lignite industry and coal power plants

Almost six months after the Polish parliament had passed a law on social protection for the coal power plant and lignite mine workers, the European Commission gave its approval for state aid. This time, however, the funds will go to the employees directly and not to subsidise production, as it is the case in the hard coal mining sector. This is a joint success of the labour unions, the employer and the government. The miners and energy sector workforce from Eastern Greater Poland had a leading role in this - they held a meaningful dialogue with the offices of Commissioners Vestager and Sefcovic in Brussels.


The European Commission has granted consent to the program covering employees of the lignite sector and energy workers from all over Poland. Among nearly 23 thousand people supported, over half a thousand miners from Eastern Greater Poland and the mine in Konin are at the forefront of transformation. Last year, mining in Jóźwin and Drzewce open-pit mines was permanently closed here - the oldest employees are impatiently waiting for the green light from Brussels, because without it they will not be entitled to severance pay and early retirement when they leave their jobs.


Words of thanks from the trade unions for officials in Brussels and Warsaw are sent by Alicja Messerszmidt from the KADRA trade union at KWB Konin – ‘This program was developed beyond divisions and taking into account the social side from the very beginning. This is what Just Transition is all about for us - we accept the evolutionary direction of change and departure from coal, but in return we expect a partnership attitude and we have met it. My sincerest thanks go to former Commissioner Frans Timmermans, who supported us from the very beginning and promised us to deal with this matter as a priority almost a year ago during his visit to Konin. Despite his departure, this important issue for Konin, Bełchatów and Turów was taken over with an equally high priority by Commissioners - Vestager and Sefcovic and officials of the European Commission, to whom I extend my thanks for their partnership and dialogue.’


The head of the trade union also refers to the actions of the Polish side - I would also like to thank the MPs and the government - both from the previous and current term, because our needs and requests were heard, although we see that the issues of Silesia were and are more of a priority. We are hopeful that these opportunities will be equalized - mining is one and the same, if not faster, lignite suffers from the closure of mines and power plants - comments Messerszmidt. She adds - We are pleased with the consistent support of the Ministry of Climate and Environment in this matter, whose management understands the challenges of mining regions. It is not without significance that Minister Paulina Hennig-Kloska is an MP from Eastern Greater Poland.


The support from the state budget for employees of the energy sector, but also of the lignite mining sector, is appreciated by the largest employer in Eastern Greater Poland, the ZE PAK Group. Today, the mine and power plant employ approximately 2.5 thousand employees, more than 5 times less than about a decade ago. No one else in Poland has experienced such a pace.


The CEO of ZE PAK, Piotr Woźny, comments on today's decision: ‘This is another milestone in our process of responsibly moving away from coal. When building new assets based mainly on renewable energy, we do not forget about our employees. Financing for the employee program comes from the Just Transition Fund, but it is the state budget that finances the amortization of social costs for the oldest employees. With our involvement in this process, we show that we are a partner in the decarbonization of the Polish energy sector for the Polish government and Brussels’ - comments Woźny.


The Instrat Foundation has been supporting the process of preparing the Just Transition Plan and its implementation since 2020. Its CEO, Michał Hetmański, positively responds to the consent of the European Commission and points out the consequences for other coal regions - The severance pay programme, initiated by the previous government, is primarily an urgent support for employees from Konin and the surrounding area, however it is Bełchatów and Turów that will be its biggest beneficiaries - the number of employees there is several times higher and their average age is approximately 10 years higher. They need this program’ - comments Hetmański.


The expert adds: ‘The new government and the management of the state-owned energy conglomerates incl. PGE should now ensure that this programme is well communicated and implemented in these coal regions and that the future of younger workers outside the coal industry is taken care of. Making up for those delays should be a top priority for the new leadership of the state-owned coal power utilities’.