On the Picket Line

Ukraine rail workers work-to-rule, refuse unsafe equipment

By Emma Johnson
June 11, 2018

Members of the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine (VPZU) employed at the state-owned rail company have been working strictly to company rules since May 14, refusing to operate dangerous equipment. The actions started at six depots and have spread across the country.

At a May 22 news conference workers and union leaders pointed to the lack of maintenance and investment, illustrated with photographs of safety hazards in yards, locomotives and cars. Because of the substandard condition of the rolling stock, working to rules has shut down locomotive depots in several cities and halted or substantially cut freight.

Drivers, their assistants and shunting operators in the railway department at ArcelorMittal in Kryvyi Rih joined the action May 17, refusing to operate locomotives. Production was shut down for four days in the giant steel and mining plant, which employs 21,000 workers.

“The railway workers are protesting because the technical condition of our trains and vehicles is critical. It causes threats to the lives of employees, passengers and, in general, all citizens, as an accident on the railways can lead to people’s injuries and deaths,” Mykhailo Volynets, head of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, said in a statement. “They do need solidarity!”

The rail workers’ actions follow a series of strikes over the past year and a half by shipyard workers and miners in the coal, iron ore and uranium industries. Through these fights workers have wrested some concessions from the bosses and strengthened the independent union movement in the country.