Strike in railway sector over planned restructuring

Restructuring of Slovakia’s railways began in 2002, but the economic crisis of 2008 hit the railway companies hard, and their financial situation again worsened. In response to the crisis, in 2011 the government announced a new revitalisation programme for the sector. This involves a significant reduction of employment in railway companies and the scrapping of some regional lines. The trade unions oppose the planned restructuring and organised a warning strike in May 2011.

Long-term restructuring in railways

In order to increase the effectiveness of the old-fashioned Slovakian railway sector, significant restructuring took place in railway companies from 2002 to 2005. Three companies were established out of the former Railways of the Slovak Republic (ŽSR): Railways of the Slovak Republic (ŽSR), Rail Road Company (ZSSK) and ZSSK Cargo (ZSSK Cargo). Restructuring was accompanied by a reduction of the workforce, and the number of employees in these companies fell from almost 43,000 in 2002 to fewer than 32,000 in 2010. This restructuring was criticised by the Railways Trade Union Associations (OZŽ), which organised a major strike in the railway sector in January 2003 (SK0306101F).

After the restructuring the financial situation of the sector improved, but the economic crisis worsened it again. According to the annual reports of the railway companies, ZSSK Cargo transport volume was 24% lower in 2009 than the previous year and the company’s revenues were at about 70% of the 2008 level. The economic crisis also hit the profitability of passenger transport performed by ZSSK Company and the downturn also limited the revenues of ŽSR, which manages the railway infrastructure.

New revitalisation programme

In order to reduce the increasing debt of railway companies, the Ministry of Transport, Construction and Regional Development (MDVRR) prepared a ‘revitalisation programme’ for the railway companies. After consultations with representatives of railway companies and the Railways Trade Union Association (OZŽ), the Government adopted Decree No. 188/2011 related to implementation of the revitalisation programme. The revitalisation includes a reduction of the operational costs of railway companies accompanied by a significant reduction of employees on the railways and the withdrawal of some regional rail lines. The privatisation of ZSSK Cargo is also planned.

According to the revitalisation programme, almost 20% of employees (about 1,800 workers) would be dismissed by ZSSK Cargo by the beginning of 2012. ŽSR would dismiss about 16% of employees (2,700 workers) up to the end of 2012 and ZSSK would dismiss 12% of employees (621 workers) by the beginning of 2014.

Trade unions organise strike

In the hopes of modifying the revitalisation programme, the Trade Union Association of Employees in Railways (OZZŽ) announced a strike alert on 7 March 2011. According to OZZŽ, implementation of the revitalisation programme will lead to the liquidation of ZSSK and ZSSK Cargo companies. To express their dissatisfaction with the planned changes in railways, the Federation of Engine-drivers, which is member of the main railway union, the Railways Trade Union Association (OZŽ), organised a warning strike on 27 May 2011. During the strike 92 passenger trains and 30 freight trains on domestic, as well as international, lines stopped for one hour.

It was the first strike on Slovakia’s railways since 2003. The exact number of participants has not been made public, but according to trade union representatives the strike was successful. Despite the strike, press reports quoted the engine drivers’ representative Peter Dubovský as saying that drivers want to participate in planned changes in railway companies. They are not against increasing competitiveness in the railway sector but demand equal conditions for state-owned companies ZSSK and ZSSK Cargo and private railway companies operating in the country.

Ludovít Cziria, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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