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Trolleybus and bus drivers want more money

  • 2000-01-27
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Vilnius public transport drivers launched a precautionary two-hour strike in Vilnius on Jan. 18. They demanded a raise which would more than double current wages and threatened a full-day strike on Jan. 27 if their demands were not satisfied.

No trolleybuses or buses were seen in Vilnius streets between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Jan. 18. Trolleybuses and almost all buses in Vilnius are owned by the Vilnius municipality.

A poster, "We are on strike," was placed on the gates of the Trolleybus Park where all trolleybuses start their journey in the mornings.

The current average monthly wage of the drivers is 1,200 litas ($300). Drivers are demanding wages rise to 3,000 litas per month.

"Thank you, drivers, for joining our strike!" Arunas Visockas, leader of the Bus Drivers' Union, shouted to a crowd of some 150 people gathered near the Vilnius Bus Park at 5 a.m. on Jan. 18. "Hurrah!" answered some drivers, laughing.

"In Soviet times my monthly wage was 300 rubles, and I felt rich enough. I could spend my vacations at seaside resorts. Now I'm poor. I get 1,200 litas, and it is nothing, taking into account current prices," said trolleybus driver Stanislav. Some drivers said their wages are paid late.

The precautionary strike had no significant influence on the city, as it was staged very early when most potential passengers were still asleep. Private microbus drivers were happy about this strike and took all the early passengers waiting at trolleybus and bus stations. Usually half-empty microbuses were full on the morning of Jan. 18.

The Vilnius municipality promised to launch legal proceedings against the strikers. Local regulations, passed by the Vilnius administration, say 70 percent of the public transport must operate during a strike, because transport is vital for the city. Strikers ignored these regulations.

Jonas Bagdonavicius, director general of the trolleybus company Vilniaus Troleibusai, said all financial problems of this company and its drivers are caused by the failure of the municipality to raise the bus and trolleybus fares. All members of all political parties of the municipality council have avoided increasing ticket prices.

The reason is simple: It would be unpopular among the electorate, said Bagdonavicius. Municipality elections are scheduled for March 19.

The Lithuanian daily Lietuvos rytas wrote that travel by public transport in Vilnius is the cheapest in Europe. The daily presented a comparison of ticket prices, in Lithuanian currency, with the capitals of Baltic countries.

Trolleybus or bus tickets cost 0.6 litas in Vilnius, 1.23 litas in Riga and 1.29 litas in Tallinn, according to Lietuvos rytas. The real price of a ticket in Vilnius should be 1.4 litas said the expert quoted by the daily.

Tickets on private buses in Vilnius cost 0.7 litas now. Microbus drivers charge between 1.5 to 2 litas for a journey.

The strike organizers said on Jan. 18 and reaffirmed on Jan. 25 that a full-day strike was scheduled for Jan. 27 if the municipality failed to comply with drivers' demands for wage increases. However on the evening of Jan. 25, leaders of the drivers' trade union met with municipal authorities and agreed to postpone the strike until March 15. Meanwhile, both sides agreed to continue negotiations.