The management of Enefit Kaevandused, the mining arm of Estonian state-owned energy group Eesti Energia, decided to extend the suspension of operations of the company's Estonia underground mine through the end of April.
This decision was made due to the rapid nationwide spread of the COVID-19 virus and the high risk of infection. On April 1, an employee of the Estonia mine was also diagnosed with the virus, the company said in a press release.
Enefit Kaevandused CEO Andres Vainola said that the employee who contracted the coronavirus came into contact with at least 19 colleagues instead of the previously known 16.
"We have sent all of these employees for coronavirus testing," Vainola said. "At the time the decision was made to suspend the operation of the mine until the end of April, the results of the tests for all of these employees were not yet known, but the temporary closure of the mine is the only effective measure to protect our workers' health and prevent the rapid spread of the virus."
According to the CEO, the decision also provides the company with more flexibility and confidence that, in any scenario of the pandemic, they will have healthy miners who can continue to supply oil shale to power plants and oil plants if necessary.
"We will continue mining in the Narva quarry, further strengthening precautions to prevent the spread of the virus there," he added.
Eduard Bogens, trustee of the Estonia mine in the Mining and Energy Workers' Independent Trade Union, said that it was the right decision to suspend the work of the mine at a time when extensive infection can still be avoided.
"We will continue work once there are no major additional risks to human health," Bogens said. "And when it comes to this decision, it is definitely important that people retain most of their pay."
The temporary shutdown of the Estonia mine will not endanger the production of electricity and oil, as Eesti Energia's oil shale warehouses currently have sufficient oil shale reserves.
the temporary suspension of the mine's underground processes affects a total of some 700 employees. Altogether 380 underground workers of the mine will be sent home. Employees' salaries will be maintained to the extent of 70 percent with the help of an aid measure of the Unemployment Insurance Fund.
Enefit Solutions, an asset management company belonging to the Eesti Energia group, is trying to find other applications for its 328 employees who provided services to the Estonia mine in underground processes. It will likely not be possible to offer substitute work to all of these employees so quickly, due to which some maintenance workers will have to wait for the relaunch of the Estonia mine at home.
Editor: Aili Vahtla