Bucharest paralyzed by subway strike

Publish date: 18-11-2009
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Nightmarish traffic in a city in which traffic is arduous on a regular day as it is. Bucharest has been choked on a day in which 650,000 subway passengers were forced to choose other means of transportation. The term bumper to bumper was more appropriate than ever. Meanwhile, the politicians are blaming each other and interim Transport Minister Radu Berceanu is considering settling the protest in court. In fact there is a precedent for that, with the protest being ruled illegal after two days of strike back in 2005. According to Mediafax, Berceanu stated that the law provisions that the transport employees have to conduct one third of their regular activity during a general labor strike, while the subway trade unions decided both now and in 2005 to establish the protest's schedule on their own so that the subway would be entirely inactive at rush hours.

'They lost in 2005 and we could resort to the courts especially since there is a precedent; however I don't want to adopt a position of force and resort to the justice system,' Berceanu said. He also stated that he proposed the subway employees to wait for another month and a half or two at most until the national budget, the Transport Ministry's budget and Metrorex's budget are adopted in order to have all the data at hand so as to be able to talk about salary hikes. Berceanu also announced that negotiations on Metrorex employees' salary hikes cannot take place before January. The interim Transport Minister underlined that if the 20 per cent salary hike that the subway trade unions asked for were to be offered that would mean a 48 per cent hike compared to the 2008 salaries, with the subway employees' average gross income standing at RON 3,600.

'The subway employees can live for another month or two with their current salaries so as to talk in January with a Minister that has long-term perspectives and that has the data of a fully approved budget,' Berceanu underlined. In turn, acting PM Emil Boc said yesterday he would start negotiations with Metrorex union leaders only after the 2010 state budget is passed. He added that he did not expect unionists to show understanding, as they are "PSD agents."

Presidential campaign in sight

The trade unions intentionally chose this moment to start the labor strike, Radu Berceanu claims. 'Obviously their leader Ion Radoi is leading them towards goals that are rather political than trade unionist in nature,' Berceanu stated, being quoted by 'Ziua' daily. In his turn, President Traian Basescu accused the Metrorex trade union members of starting an irresponsible protest and expressed his hope that the court will suspend the protest on Wednesday at the latest. 'Radoi, a Social-Democrat Senator and trade union leader, managed to block traffic.

I think this is an issue of just how far one can push irresponsibility. One cannot condemn a whole city to the traffic jam in which Bucharest finds itself now just because one has a vested interest for November 22,' Basescu stated in an interview for a blogger. 'I don't think this is to the benefit of the candidate that Radoi backs,' Basescu added. On the other hand, PNL President Crin Antonescu stated that the Metrorex strike has to do with the clash between Traian Basescu and Mircea Geoana and pointed out that because of the strike the Liberals canceled a meeting that would have been attended by 30,000 fans.

Trade union leader Ion Radoi denies any political involvement, arguing that it is the employees' right to have their salaries hiked as long as their productivity rose, with the Bucharesters being the only ones that stand to suffer from this protest. 'We've reached the general strike because the administration refuses to hike our salaries despite the fact that the productivity rose by more than 30 per cent in 2009,' he said. In a communique the Social Democrat Party has asked the Metrorex employees to show understanding and to resume their activity. PSD has accused Minister Berceanu of allegedly refusing to talk with the trade union representatives. 'Bucharest is today paralyzed because of the Transport Ministry representatives' arrogant refusal to talk with the trade union representatives. Radu Berceanu is the one that caused the Metrorex labor strike, just like he did in other situations,' the communique adds.

Meanwhile, the administration has asked the Bucharest Tribunal to decide whether the protest is legal or not, with the dossier set to be trialed on Wednesday. At the same time the Bucharest Court of Appeal has received a demand to suspend the subway strike, with the court scheduling the trial for Thursday.


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