Today employees of Poland’s regional railway service Przewozy Regionalne (PR), the country’s largest rail operator, have gone on a 24-hour strike, as of midnight. The strike is as a result of a stalemate being reached between the Federation of Rail Workers’ Unions – spear-headed by the combative stance of Vice-President Dariusz Browarek – and PR senior management.
The main dispute appears to be over pay, with Browarek’s union demanding a 280zl increase in monthly salaries for PR rail workers, effective by the first quarter of 2012. Government promises have been thus far limited to a 120zl pay rise (to be phased in by the end of the calendar year), followed by a further 160zl increase toward the end of 2012. Much of this Union action over salaries is as a result of the 7% wage increases negotiated by the Teachers’ trade unions in 2010 (due to start next month). Public sector workers in other areas, such as mining, border controls, the fire services and the rail industries, regard the lack of a similar pay bump to be unacceptable and have been threatening industrial action throughout 2011.
The Federation of RailWorkers’ Unions has also expressed concern at government policy which threatens unprofitable railway companies, such as PR, with forced bankruptcy and liquidation. In the last two financial years (2009, 2010), PR has reported rapidly decreasing losses (290mill zl in 2009, 170mill zl in 2010), but still expects to report between 30-40mill zl losses for 2011, dependent on the final price of increased salary costs.
PR operates low-cost, regional rail services that connect the various voivodships (or counties) of Poland. As a result of their commitment to low costs, combined with the infrastructural chaos of much of the Polish rail network and a schedule that sees between 2,500 and 2,700 trains in operation daily, PR has found itself in an increasingly difficult financial predicament. This has in turn ignited further fears of job cuts and service mergers amongst the Union rank and file.
As reported by the PNB, local union leaders have also sought increased investment in infrastructure and a reorganisation of the way in which the umbrella organisation PKP S.A. is organised. With a general sense that Maria Wasiak, the CEO that only recently replaced the unpopular former incumbent Andrzej Wach, will not provide the kind of determined and innovative leadership the beleaguered Polish Rail Network requires.