Railway accidents grow in Ukraine amid job cuts and corruption



Ukrainian railway workers are holding loud protests in Kiev against job cuts, lack of safety, bad working conditions, and the corruption in public transport.

There have been substantial cuts and changes in Ukrzaliznytsia, the state-owned Ukrainian Railways, while accidents are on the increase: 26 per cent since January.

Job cuts are the result of the cancellation of some urban and suburban trains, in a railroad network which is the 14th largest in the world.

According to the International Union of Railways, Ukrzaliznytsia is also the world’s sixth largest rail passenger transporter and the world’s seventh largest freight transporter.

In October 2011 the management announced plans to reduce the turnover of passenger trains by nearly 25 per cent.

These plans are almost fully implemented, despite the dissatisfaction of passengers. In addition, Ukrainian railway fully cancelled suburban electric trains at 18 plots in 11 regions of Ukraine.

The management says that those trains were not profitable enough. Passengers are now forced to use road transport services, which is even three times more expensive and much more polluting than rail services.

Dismissal of personnel was accompanied by increase of overtime work for the remaining employees.

Drivers now have to work for four days in a row, with a higher probability of accidents.

According to official statistics, from January to August 2012, there were 58 railway accidents, with an increase of 26 per cent on the same period in 2011.

Drivers and conductors argue that more working time doesn’t necessarily mean higher wages. According to official data, the average wage of workers of Ukrainian railway in 2012 is 3,720 hryvnias (460 USD).

Even worse, workers claim that there is a rampant phenomenon of corruption. “There is a system that pervades the entire rail industry, from the highest to the lowest level of management,” they say.

Illegal transportation of passengers, baggage and cargo is widespread. All this was reported during a recent protest in front of the Ministry of Infrastructure.

A Ukrzaliznytsia train guard was carrying a poster reading “Bribery is destroying Ukrainian railway”.

“Train guards must pay a bribe to the conductors for travelling. The amount depends on the route. But there are trains where the bribe can reach 1000 USD a month,” he said.

Conductors take kickbacks from train guards and senior managers from the conductors, and so on up to higher management.

That is why train guards are forced to take illegal passengers and cargo into wagons, he added.

The Free Trade Union of Railway Workers, which is based in Kharkiv, was among the organisers of the demonstrations.

Protesters demanded to the Ukrzaliznytsia management and to the Ministry of Infrastructure that they make a deep check of local railway authorities in Kharkiv.

Since the protests in Kiev attracted the attention of the media, the management had to start negotiations, which led to a first agreement. The union leader Alexander Abrosimov said that some of the train lines suppressed would be restored soon.

Ukrzaliznytsia also created a commission that will check the labour regulations and trade union rights in Kharkiv.

On Tuesday the union met the commission members and gave them all the information about the abuses at the local railway. Abrosimov told Equal Times that further actions of the union will depend on results of the investigation carried on by the commission.

According to Ukraine’s labour legislation, railroad workers are not allowed to go on strike.

But Abrosimov said that workers are prepared to engage in civil disobedience at any time.

“If Ukrzaliznytsia management will not take into account the opinion of unions, if corruption will not be stopped, we, together with passengers, will block the railways,” he said.