June 12, 2019 / 12:25 PM / 2 months ago

Unions at Polish miner JSW demand energy minister's dismissal

WARSAW, June 12 (Reuters) - Trade unions at Poland’s state-run coal miner JSW called on Wednesday for the country’s energy minister to be dismissed, after he fired the miner’s CEO following a dispute about strategy.

The energy ministry on Tuesday sacked Daniel Ozon, who had been CEO of the EU’s biggest coking coal producer since 2017.

“We demand the dismissal of Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski as well as dismissing all members of the supervisory board appointed by the ministry,” the heads of JSW trade unions said in a letter sent to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and published on one of the union’s websites.

Ozon’s dismissal has also added to broader investor concerns about interference by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government in state run and listed companies.

Shares in JSW were down 3.5% by 1214 GMT, after falling 6% on Tuesday in the wake of Ozon’s dismissal.

The unions said in the letter that they had organised for miners to stage protests against Ozon’s dismissal at JSW mines on Wednesday, although a spokesman for JSW said the company saw no sign of protests at its mines.

A group of a few hundred JSW miners also travelled to the group’s headquarters in Warsaw on Tuesday morning to protest after Ozon’s departure was announced.

The unions say that JSW generated record-high profits thanks to Ozon and also praise him for launching a special fund in which the company has set aside part of its profits to be used during periods when coal prices are low.

Ozon also had the support of private shareholders, but fell out with the energy ministry over strategy and had already survived previous attempts to oust him. The government owns 55.16% of JSW.

Ozon rebuffed some of Tchorzewski’s proposals for JSW money to be used to support national projects, including the construction of a coal-fuelled power plant in Ostroleka, northeastern Poland, and taking over a troubled thermal coal mine.

Trade union representatives and an energy ministry spokeswoman were not immediately available to comment.

Ozon’s term was due to end on June 26, along with the terms of the rest of the supervisory board. A process for selecting new management is underway, and the deadline for submissions was on Tuesday. (Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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