Union protest 'best ever', but chaos averted

14th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

14 October 2004 , AMSTERDAM — Dutch public transport largely did not operate on Thursday as unions protested against the Cabinet's budget cuts, but the feared chaos did not materialise despite busier than normal roads as commuters sought alternative transport.

14 October 2004

AMSTERDAM — Dutch public transport largely did not operate on Thursday as unions protested against the Cabinet's budget cuts, but the feared chaos did not materialise despite busier than normal roads as commuters sought alternative transport.

Staff of Dutch national rail operator NS and several regional bus companies, including Connexxion, BBA and Arriva, walked off the job at 5am. The willingness of workers to strike was extremely high as staff downed tools en masse.

Municipal public transport in various cities also ground to a halt, but city buses started operating in Utrecht again at about 3pm, news agency ANP reported.

As unions conduct a rolling campaign against government budget cuts, the chairman of trade union FNV Bondgenoten, Henk van der Kolk, said Thursday's strike was the most successful action taken so far.

The union estimated that 15,000 national rail and regional bus workers went out on strike, newspaper De Telegraaf reported.

Some 15,000 people are employed in the regional bus industry, 5,000 of whom had a scheduled day off and a majority of the remaining workers went out on strike. Of the estimated 13,000 NS rail workers, one third had a day off and 75 percent of the rest were on strike.

Van der Kolk said that shutting down the nation's public transport was not an easy thing to do due to the criticism and irritation that it provokes. But speaking at a strike rally in Rotterdam, he said "better 24 hours inconvenience than life-long problems".

The NS tried throughout the day to deploy trains wherever possible, but that effort was in vain due to the huge number of workers on strike. A reliable service roster was thus unattainable.

Trains stations remained empty for much of the day, with commuters anticipating the strike and seeking alternative transport. Station platforms were deserted  and many shops were closed for the day.

Large swathes of people chose to travel by car to work and the morning peak-hour was busiest at about 7.45am compared with the usual time of 8.30am. A total of 50 traffic jams were recorded with a total length of 232km compared with the mid-October average of 200km.

By 10am, just two traffic jams remained and the national police force KLPD said that a higher number of accidents did not occur. Dry weather and sensible driving averted problems, while traffic police deployed twice as many vehicles as per usual.

Travellers departing from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam were forced to drive by car or taxi to their departure, while some took the last train on Wednesday night. Tourists arriving on Thursday were caught unawares and large queues for taxis were witnessed.

An NS survey of 2,000 people indicated that about two thirds of rail commuters believe a public transport strike is not the right manner to protest against cabinet policy. But 80 percent supported union criticism of the cabinet's plans.

The 24-hour strike was primarily in protest against the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 coalition cabinet's plans to reduce the fiscal attractiveness of early retirement schemes. Unions have also criticised cuts to social security and healthcare.

The protest came despite the fact that Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm hinted on Wednesday the Dutch government might renegotiate some aspects of its controversial social security reform package.

Speaking to the Dutch Parliament, Zalm said agreeing on a partial pension savings scheme, or "spaar-VUT", could break the impasse with the unions over the planned cuts to the VUT and pre-pension early retirement schemes.

Zalm's olive branch followed exploratory talks State Secretary Cees van der Knaap had with union officials earlier this week to see if a way out of the impasse could be found.

The FNV's Van der Kolk acknowledged the feelers the government was putting out in a bid to restart talks, but he warned the union protests would continue until the government withdrew its budget plans.

"Industry, the health sector, the police and teachers will follow the public transport strike," he said.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news

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