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23 Dec, 2008 06:14

Ukraine risks mass worker protests

The crisis in the global economy has left many Ukrainians fearing for their future, with closures threatening key industries. Political instability is hampering the government's ability to act.

There are now set to be more protests by angry workers facing financial ruin and poverty.

These are hard times for the Savenko family in eastern Ukraine. Tatyana has lost her job at a mini-market and Konstantin's salary at a coal mine has been reduced by more than half. Desperate, the couple is trying to find ways to survive.

“We used to have a stable salary. We never worried about it, but in the last two months it's almost gone,” says Konstantin Savenko.

“We have a few cattle. We have eggs every day, that's why we still survive,” Tatyana explains.

Marina Glebova, a print agency worker from Krivoy Rog, says despite a cut in her steelworker husband's salary, they will survive but the situation in her town worries her.

“Many people have lost their jobs and crime has risen. Women do not wear jewellery and after dark and in areas with no street lights they do not go out alone,” she says.

Compulsory leave, salary cuts and early retirements are some of the measures used to try to deal with the situation. Ukraine has been hit heavily by the global financial fallout. and the industrially developed east is feeling it the most. Experts say work at almost all factories and mines in the country is either suspended or under threat.

Once the pride of the Soviet steel industry, a factory in Krivoy Rog now owned by the Mittal Steel company, is still one of the biggest in Europe and still brings in billions of US dollars in profit. So far it has reportedly abstained from large-scale redundancies, but should it halt its production, Ukraine could lose almost 40 per cent of its overall export.

Experts believe that the inflation rate is at the level Ukraine has been seeing for the last few years, but economist Andrey Blinov says that Ukraine will suffer from the crisis more than any other state in Europe.

“Ukraine has seen a strong decline in metals and is one of the five countries in Europe that have experienced a strong decline in industry in general. We now have an unofficial number of more than one million people who have been made redundant and are looking for a job,” he said.

For many provincial industrial centres rising unemployment would be devastating.

“That's because we have so-called mono-cities, where most of the population is working at a factory. If you close a factory in such a large town, the government has a dead town – a dead town which is prone to protests,” Blinov says.

Unions plan mass nationwide protests against salary cuts and redundancies. The opposition, the Party of Region,- says if the government doesn't stabilise the situation in three months, it will bring hundreds of thousands onto the streets.