MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish coalminers blocked roads on Thursday as they continued a two-week-old strike to demand wages they say are owed by their employers, state television reported.
The Spanish coal industry has received government aid as it struggles to maintain profitability, with high costs making it uncompetitive compared with imported coal.
In the north-western province of Leon, 52 miners have been occupying a gallery 500 metres underground in one mine for a week and 14 in another because they have had no pay for two months in a region where some 10,000 families depend on coal.
Two mining companies, Alonso and Viloria, have broken a pact in which they pledged to pay wages in return for government aid to the coal sector, the Ministry of Industry said in a statement.
“The government considers unjustified the decision of Alonso and Viloria mining groups not to pay wages to their workers,” the ministry said in a statement.
Other companies are paying workers even though they have the same economic problems, the ministry said. The unpaid workers represent 35 percent of Spain’s roughly 7,400 coalminers.
The Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO.) labour federation has demanded that mine owners pressure the government to enact proposals to support Spain’s declining coal industry. The steps have been awaiting European Union approval for months.
“CC.OO. demands that the government once and for all get involved and seek a solution that would include boosting domestic coal stocks, as it did at the end of August, until the aid decree is approved,” a CC.OO. statement said.
The government passed a decree in February to compensate utilities for burning domestic coal, but has repeatedly failed to get regulatory approval from Brussels in line with EU policy on state aid.
Spanish environmentalists have criticised the plans. They say aid money would be better spent on renewable energy sources, in which Spain has recently become a major producer.
Programmes to support the local coal business are key to Spain reducing its dependence on imported energy, the Ministry of Industry said.
Reporting by Martin Roberts; Editing by Dale Hudson