Polish coal boss warns of unemployment jump if mines close too fast

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FILE PHOTO: Miners walk out of a lift after finishing their shift about 500 meters underground at the Boleslaw Smialy coal mine, a unit of coal miner Kompania Weglowa (KW), in Laziska Gorne

WARSAW (Reuters) - A rapid closure of coal mines will lead to a jobless rate of up to 50% in some towns in Poland's southern coal region of Silesia, the chief executive of the country's biggest coal producer PGG said on Wednesday.

Poland generates most of its electricity from burning coal and is the only European Union state that has refused to pledge carbon neutrality by 2050, arguing it needs more time and money to shift its economy to clean energy sources.

PGG will gradually close its mines by 2049, according to a deal signed by the government representatives and trade unions.

The plan needs more public aid and European Commission approval, which critics say will be difficult to secure.

PGG Chief Executive Tomasz Rogala warned that accelerating the process, without investing in alternative jobs in Silesia, would result in a jump in unemployment and depopulation.

Rogala said around 7,000 jobs out of 100,000 in Silesia are related to coal mining, while in the EU excluding Poland the proportion is 150 out of 100,000.

"Every second coal-related job in Europe is located in Poland. This is why it is so easy to talk about decarbonisation in Europe and so difficult in Silesia," Rogala told the Silesian Deal online conference.

"We very often hear about fast transformation, fast departure from coal and fast mines closures. What does it mean for the labour market? ... Closure of mines in a short period of time will lead to an increase in unemployment to several dozen percent," Rogala said, adding there were towns in Silesia where a coal mine is a major employer.

Some experts, however, say accelerating investment in clean energy sources will create jobs that could become alternatives for miners. Also, Silesia's well developed road infrastructure and skilled workforce have attracted investment in automotive and other sectors, creating new jobs too.

Silesia has one of the lowest unemployment rates among Polish regions.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Mark Potter)