No End of Tough Talks, Bulgarian Railways Strike

Business | December 6, 2011, Tuesday // 19:01|  views

The Bulgarian Railways strike started on November 24 and will enter its 14th day Wednesday. Photo by Sofia Photo Agency

The negotiations between the labor unions at the troubled State-owned Railway Company BDZ Holding and the cabinet will continue Wednesday as will the workers' strike, which will enter its 14th day.

Transport Minister, Ivaylo Moskvski, who went Tuesday on the negotiation table on the syndicates' demand, had not been able to secure an end to the strike, despite reports the talks have been constructive.

Labor union leaders say Moskovski managed to, at least, secure some order in the discussion, but had not promised more than the BDZ management. On Wednesday, he will be represented by the Chief Secretary of the Ministry, while all passenger and freight trains will be halted, once again, between 8 am and 4 pm.

Over the weekend, the BDZ labor unions declared they will negotiate only in the presence of the Transport Minister, after bringing to a standstill on Sunday those with the BDZ management. They say they do not trust the latter over a number of things such as them not having any idea about railways transportation and accuse them of lies and deceit.

"We agreed to sign the class labor contract with the 2009 parameters, and we were under the impression that the only remaining issue was how to protect those who will be laid off. In addition, the BDZ management earlier proposed a bonus system for workers, and we agreed with it. But when we negotiated the class labor contract, they threw at us amendments in 48 articles as a complete surprise – they would have led to a 35%-37% reduction of salaries, which we rejected," a union leader said then.

Regarding the bonus system based on job performance, it was announced Tuesday that a work group will be formed to iron out details. The syndicates have agreed to it, but want it to become effective in June 2012, and wages to be kept at their current level until then.

The Chair of the BDZ Board of Directors, Vladimir Vladimirov, firmly reiterated that the management would not surrender to both – planned reforms in general and the bonus system in particular.

Moskovski labeled the talks constructive, saying they are now focusing on purely technical details. He, however, also stated that nothing else or more can be proposed by the cabinet and the management, because there is no financing for such moves.

"What we are proposing them is the rescue the company. If the syndicates continue insisting and demanding they will bury it," the Minister stressed.

Meanwhile, the Head of Passenger Transport, Metodi Hristov, announced that BDZ will halt on their own all passenger trains between 8 am and 4 pm in order to prevent further financial losses, estimated at BGN 300 000 a day. The syndicates immediately countered this would be a direct lockout.

The strike was announced as termless. The labor unions are adamant the strike will continue until an agreement is reached with the BDZ management. They demand the signing of a class labor contract under the same parameters as before the announced start of the reform.

Last Monday, BDZ Freight Transport and BDZ Passenger Transport filed a Court claim to declare the strike illegal. On Sunday, the Sofia City Court announced that the trial in the civil case filed by the management has been launched.

The management of the company and Moskovski, promised that no one will be fired for taking part in the strike, even though they deem the action illegal.

The labor unions vowed to stage an effective,  mass, termless strike after the recent notice of the management of the heavily indebted state-owned railway company BDZ Holding that it intended to lay off 2 000 workers, and reduce the number of trains in operation by 150 (later scaled down to 138) by January 2012. In addition, ticket prices along state-subsidized routes will be increased by 9% as of January 1, 2012, and those of "business trains", i.e. the handful of profitable railway routes in Bulgaria – by 15% as December 1, 2011.

The strike began on November 24.

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Tags: Vladimir Vladimirov, Simeon Djankov, BDZ, Strike, Bulgarian State Railways, railway workers, protest, layoffs, layoff, Transport Ministry, Transport Minister, Strike, trade union, BDZ, Bulgarian State Railways, Ivaylo Moskovski, KNSB, railway strike, syndicates, BDZ, trains, state railways, Podkrepa, collective bargaining, class labor contract


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