Unions threaten strike over Bulgarian state railways cutbacks

Bulgarian state railways BDZ is to cancel 38 trains from January 12, with further cuts planned from February 1, and intends to reduce employee numbers by 1500.

The planned staff dismissals have led major trade union confederations represented among railway employees to threaten strikes.

BDZ said that it was reducing the number of trains because of a reduction in its state subsidy. The cutbacks would offset the subsidy reduction by 40 million leva, the railways said.

Rail routes that were being cancelled had been chosen on the basis of unprofitability and low passenger numbers, the state railway said.

A further reason for the cutbacks in services was a growing shortage of rolling stock in working condition, according to BDZ.

Among the trains being cancelled from January 12 are Vratsa-Pleven, Sofia-Karlovo, Karlovo-Sliven, Stara Zagora-Sliven, Gorna Oryahovitsa-Stara Zagora and Vidin-Mezdra.

BDZ chief executive Vladimir Vladimirov said that 1500 employees would be released in stages. The first to go would be those on temporary contracts and those of pensionable age.

Petar Bunev of the railwaymen’s union within the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria said that in the event of mass dismissals and breaches of contract, “we will not be complacent but will taken action, with the final phase being a national strike”.

The unions argue that the reduction of the number of trains will not improve the financial state of the railways, which has debts totalling 565 million leva.

Iskra Ivanova of the Podkrepa trade union federation said that cutting back on the number of trains would serve only to reduce revenue from passenger transport.

The railways did not seem to be a priority for the state, Ivanova said.

In November 2011, Bulgaria saw a railways strike in response to planned staff cutbacks of 2000 employees, as well as other cost-reduction steps including train service reductions. In spite of the strike, several hundred employees accepted dismissal in return for several months’ compensation pay.

The 2011 strike ended after 20 days with a new collective agreement on salaries and leave conditions.



The Sofia Globe staff

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