von Alina Pogoda, Polish Green Network

Challenges for a Just Transition in central Poland

It is impossible to carry out a just transformation of the region without the trust and commitment of ZE PAK employees. In Konin, members of the Eastern Wielkopolska Partnership Forum discussed it.

On October 19, the Eastern Wielkopolska Partnership Forum met for the third time this year to talk about the process of just transition in the region. The meeting was unique because for the first time all members – i.e. representatives of mining communes, the Regional Development Agency (RDA) in Konin, local business, NGOs and miners – could meet and get to know each other live. They discussed important issues related to the preparations for obtaining money from the Just Transition Fund. One of the key issues of just transition is to encourage entrepreneurs to hire miners. But are entrepreneurs and miners willing to cooperate at all?

Maciej Sytek, president of the Regional Development Agency in Konin, emphasized that projects aimed at creating new jobs will be treated as a priority when allocating funds from the Just Transition Fund (JTF). Sytek also pointed out that a huge challenge is to build a new identity for a region that has been focused on lignite mining for several decades. The president of the RDA noted that new jobs for miners in Eastern Wielkopolska do not have to be „innovative“, which is repeated ad nauseam and not always rightly at the present time. The real challenge for the region is the thermal modernization of 90 thousand buildings, without which the transition to zero-emission heating of buildings misses the point. Many new hands are needed to avoid wasting energy. Therefore, the potential for creating new positions for bricklayers or carpenters in Konin and its vicinity is huge.

Magdalena Bartecka from the Polish Green Network drew attention to the need to create several projects supporting ZE PAK employees in transformation and looking for a new job. Why several instead of one flagship? Well, such differentiation increases the chance of success of any of the projects. Investing time and money in one big project that may go wrong is less effective and more risky.

During the Forum, a question was asked whether a database had been created with information on how miners would like to use the support from the FST, and what development path they see for themselves. Would they rather start their own company or are they satisfied with working in a specific position?

Witold Kłosowiak, chairman of the social and employee committee of KWB Konin, replied that such a survey on the future had been carried out. Unfortunately, due to a lack of confidence in the trial, few miners attended it. They do not want to share information with the employer because they do not know what the information is for. This points to the lack of a broad information campaign among miners that would explain the essence of the ongoing transformation. Kłosowiak also added that many employees of ZE PAK want to invest in their own business.

Tomasz Kopczyński from the Konin Chamber of Commerce pointed out that entrepreneurs can easily absorb employees leaving the mining industry, creating new jobs, provided that they have money for investments. He also emphasized that in order for companies to hire former mining workers, they must have access to information on the number of potential employees and their competences. Without such information, it is very difficult to create new jobs and start cooperation between companies and the laid off miners. Entrepreneurs will be happy to hire miners and retrain them, provided that they receive funding for building such jobs, where the salary requires taking into account the previous salaries of miners, which could often be higher than the salary of a regular employee in other industries.

The conclusion of the meeting in Eastern Wielkopolska is simple – it is absolutely necessary to build trust in the process of just transition among miners. This requires an extensive information campaign and the involvement of the miners themselves in planning this process. Miners will be willing to join the re-qualification program or apply for funding to run their own business only if the just transition concept gains their trust and commitment.

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