RZD Staff Protest Over Suspensions

MTLinyov speaking at a protest outside Russian Railways' offices on Monday.
Members of an independent rail union picketed the Moscow headquarters of Russian Railways, or RZD, on Monday to protest the suspension of 50 union members working on a railway tunnel on the other side of the country, near Lake Baikal.

A group of 20 protesters carried the banners of the Russian Professional Union of Locomotive Brigades and SotsProf, an umbrella group of independent labor unions. Some held signs with slogans including demands for an end to "legal nihilism in Russian Railways."

Among the protesters were union representatives from Perm and Yekaterinburg and train drivers from Moscow.

The union asked for permission for 40 people to hold a two-hour picket, but it was only given permission for 20, said Sergei Linyov, a union representative from Moscow Railways' Zheleznodorozhnoye depot, where drivers took part in a one-day strike last month that disrupted hundreds of commuter trains.

"It's an act of solidarity with our rail workers in Severomuisk who have been suspended from their jobs. Fifty of them have been sitting without work for a month now. Instead, the work is being carried out by strikebreakers," Linyov said.

Fifty workers on the Severomuisk tunnel, the country's longest rail tunnel at more than 15 kilometers, were suspended without pay after refusing to take tests that were not attended by a representative of the independent union, Linyov said.

About 60 workers held a protest in Severomuisk earlier Tuesday, said Dmitry Rusinovich-Rusak, the deputy head of the union. The union is considering plans to hold protests each working day for a month if RZD refuses to meet their demands. "There haven't been any approaches from Russian Railways to resolve this question in a normal, peaceful way," Rusinovich-Rusak said.

Rusinovich-Rusak said the suspended workers feared discrimination if they were forced to take tests without a union representative present. "They are afraid that the commission will act in a prejudiced way toward them, that there will be complaints against them."

The situation is "a glaring example of how the management at Russian Railways doesn't have an understanding of the law," said Yevgeny Kulikov, the chairman of the union.

Kulikov said a meeting Monday of union officials and rail workers had also decided to organize a second, bigger strike to demand a raise nationally. "The strike was stopped for a time. Today we made a decision to restart it." He did not specify when the strike would restart.

RZD's press office directed a request for comment to Alexandra Buratayeva, the spokeswoman for RZD president Vladimir Yakunin. Buratayeva was not available for comment Monday afternoon.