Experts will launch on Feb. 2 the first phase of tests of the General Electric locomotives Estonian Railway (Eesti Raudtee) imported last year from the United States, while union leaders threatened action against massive layoffs expected this year as part of the company's restructuring.
The first part of the locomotive tests will be mainly environmental - checking for noise and vibration level. General director of the Railway Board, Oleg Epner, said specialists of the Russian Railway Institute would arrive in Estonia next week to collect information on both the locomotives and infrastructure so that the tests include data on track and soil, which are weakest in March when the snow melts.
Two weeks have been set aside for the tests, following which there will be a series of calculations and conclusions. Results will be made available to the public by the end of March.
Meanwhile, a group of representatives from the railway workers' trade union, ERAU, said it was devising tough countermeasures against Estonian Railways since the two sides failed to reach an accord over job cuts this year.
"The workers have decided to defend their right to work. Since this is a collective work dispute, ERAU has turned to the state mediator and the action team of ERAU has begun preparations for actions," the union announced Jan. 24.
Union members said after three months of negotiations no results had been achieved over proposed job-cuts this year at Estonian Railways.
The rail company, which is 66 percent owned by Baltic Rail Services, announced in May 2002 its intention to cut about 480 jobs in 2003 as part of its long-term restructuring plan for the rail cargo carrier.
Baltic Rail Services said the company would need 5 billion kroons (320 million euros) over the next few years in order to become profitable.
The union says it wouldn't be opposed to the plan if the employer were able to offer arguments in favor of the layoffs.
"Work cannot be done without doing overtime - which is now planned on a constant basis," said the union.
The union said it remained unclear why Estonian Railways did not wish to conclude an agreement on layoffs with the unions.
According to the union, Estonian Railways has abused the union's trust last year by cutting 900 jobs in the course of the year. In only 275 cases did the company use proper procedures, whereas the rest of the employees were discharged by mutual agreement or for other reasons.
Under the business plan of the privatized rail company, the number of jobs left by the end of this year should be about 2,700.
Arguing that at least 2,950 jobs are necessary for the company to function normally, ERAU has called the investor's business plan incompetent as it allegedly fails to take into account the concrete conditions of labor and train traffic.
The number of employees at Eesti Raudtee now stands at about 3,500.