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Hungarian rail strike continues

Hungary’s biggest rail union continues its indefinite strike after a new round negotiations failed to produce an agreement.

“We are going to carry on with the strike,” Balázs Péter Bárány, vice-president of the Independent Railway Workers’ Union (VDSzSz) told AFP.

Only a fraction of the trains - about a fifth of them, according to an estimate of the state railway company MÁV - were running on Monday. The main railway stations in the Hungarian capital were practically empty on Monday, while road traffic had sharply increased as commuters opted to travel by car rather than train.

The transport ministry estimated that only 14% of rail workers took part in the strike, but since those employees were largely ticket and safety inspectors they were able to bring rail traffic to a halt. It was the second strike in three days, after a nine-hour work stoppage on Friday that crippled rail transport nationwide.

The union is demanding a 10% wage hike plus an extra two-and-a-half months’ salary, a demand which rail operator MÁV has rejected.

In a sign that positions may be hardening, Economy and Transport Minister Csaba Kákosy blasted union bosses on Monday, accusing them of playing politics ahead of a nationwide referendum on some of the government’s most unpopular economic reforms.

He has also threatened to shift state funds away from the railway and into the public bus network if the strikes continued.

The government has offered a 6.9% salary raise to rail employees in 2008, after a year in which average real wages fell owing to government austerity measures.

VDSzSZ has staged several work stoppages since last October, protesting everything from the planned closure of less frequented rail lines to government efforts to allow private insurance firms a role in the state healthcare system. (thetimes)