Bulgarian coal miners rally to defend their jobs

Over 1,500 Bulgarian miners rallied in Sofia Tuesday to defend their jobs, following the announcement that coal-fired plants would be temporarily shut down due to low electricity consumption and exports.

The protest, organised by the country's two main trade unions KNSB and Podkrepa, added to the snowballing public discontent over high electricity bills and growing poverty and corruption that toppled the right-wing government two weeks ago.

"We are here to defend our jobs. We want work! We want bread for our children!" the chief of Podkrepa's mining federation Vladimir Topalov said at the rally.

The miners waved blue and purple union flags and hurled insults outside the DKEVR state energy regulatory commission. They also dumped several bags of coal in front of the building.

The commission inked late Tuesday an immediate cut in regulated electricity prices for households in a move to appease the sometimes violent daily rallies that have shaken Bulgaria over the past three weeks.

Households in southeastern Bulgaria, supplied by the local branch of Austrian utility EVN, will pay 7.28 percent less for electricity starting Tuesday, the DKEVR said in a statement.

The clients of Czech electricity supplier CEZ in western Bulgaria will have their prices cut by 7.17 percent, and those in the northeast of the country, supplied by Czech Energo-Pro, will see a reduction of 6.22 percent, the regulator added.

Low domestic consumption and slumping electricity exports have already prompted a lowering of capacity and temporary shutdowns at a number of coal-fired plants across the country.

Miners said they were not against the price cuts, but they slammed a proposal by outgoing Economy and Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev to no longer provide households with electricity from three coal-fired plants considered the most expensive providers.

"There are many other solutions for cheaper electricity. Whoever cannot find them should go," KNSB union leader Plamen Dimitrov said Tuesday, suggesting that the DKEVR should instead lower the share of green energy provided to consumers.

"Do not play with the fate of thousands of Bulgarian workers, who barely make ends meet, work under deplorable conditions and often lose their lives on the job," he said to approving shouts from the crowd.

Experts say the jobs of over 5,000 Bulgarian miners are threatened by the planned thermal power plant shutdowns.

Another 1,500 jobs are also at stake at the country's heavily-indebted state railway company as coal makes up about a third of all cargo moved by its freight unit.

"If there is no coal, there will be no railways. That is why we are here to show solidarity with the miners," rail union chief Petar Bunev said as several hundred railway workers joined the rally.