Railway trade unions consider strike action

Just weeks after riding out a blockade of traffic in Prague staged by the Association of Car Importers, Transport Minister Jaromir Schling now faces a threat of strike action by Czech rail workers. Czech Railways is reported to be facing serious financial problems after the government failed to deliver a 15 billion crown injection to the state-owned company earlier this year. Employees are feeling the pinch and trade unions are threatening to effect a crippling strike unless the government fulfills its promises. Daniela Lazarova has the story.

The 15 billion crown injection was to have covered Czech Railways' losses and been used for maintenance. Instead of modernizing its facilities and improving its services as planned, the state owned company has been forced to put off modernization and effect only the most pressing maintenance work. Payments to contractors are overdue and the company is reported to have increasing problems paying employees' wages on time. Dr. Zdenek Jilek of the Trade Union Association of Czech Railways does not hide his anger over the broken promises.

"It is interesting that the government can make a commitment, break it and get away with it. That's pretty hard to understand for most of us. We all have commitments which we are expected to meet and we all have bills which we are expected to pay. The government expects us to maintain a rail service for the public without giving us the money to pay our contractors. We can't operate on credit when everyone knows we are in the red."

Although minister Jaromir Schling has acknowledged the company's problems he says he only has 4 billion crowns of the promised sum and holds out little hope of getting more from the Cabinet in the course of this year. As a result the railway trade unions have decided it is high time to put pressure on the entire Cabinet. Dr. Zdenek Jilek again -

"We are requesting a meeting between the deputy prime minister Vladimir Spidla, finance minister Jiri Rusnok and transport minister Schling at the earliest possible date. If minister Schling cannot get the money for us - then it is time address the entire Cabinet."

The Association of Trade Unions of Czech Rail Employees is aware of its strength. So much so that it has not deemed it necessary to join the nationwide Confederation of Trade Unions on the grounds that it is strong enough to fight its own battles. To bring this point home, it has warned Cabinet that if it is pushed to effect strike action then the planned strike will be more crippling than the five day national strike effected in 1997. " It seems that we have been too soft in defending our interests" the union's president Jaromir Dusek told the press.