Transport minister urges end to rail dispute

Workers in Bellinzona vote to continue their strike on Tuesday Keystone

Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger has urged employees at a cargo unit of the Swiss Federal Railways in southern Switzerland to end their strike.

This content was published on March 25, 2008 - 17:15

At the same time, he called on the board of the Federal Railways to review its position in the dispute, which centres on plans to cut hundreds of jobs.

The minister also urged the strikers in the southern city of Bellinzona not to insist on preconditions for any negotiations.

The strikers' committee said the 18-day strike would continue after the Federal Railways broke off the talks in Bern on Monday evening.

Leuenberger warned that any attempt by strikers to block traffic on the rail network would have legal consequences.

He called on both sides to bring constructive proposals to round-table talks and added that he would only appoint a mediator to the conflict if both parties agreed.

The strike was called after the loss-making freight unit announced plans to axe around 400 jobs – 126 of them in Italian-speaking Bellinzona. The restructuring plans came after the unit lost SFr190 million ($185.73 million) in 2007.

Both sides blamed each other for the failure of the talks.

"Cargo has not moved one millimetre," union leader Gianni Frizzo told journalists.

Too high demands

But the head of Federal Railways, Andreas Meyer, said union demands were too high.

Meyer said that although the Federal Railways had indicated it would be prepared to make some concessions, union demands for guarantees would mean the company was "bound and gagged".

The rail union has said it is willing to consider the privatisation of certain services, but indicated its members will not return to work until the cargo unit guaranteed jobs at the Bellinzona locomotive maintenance depot.

In his Easter message, the Catholic bishop in the southern canton of Ticino urged both sides to cooperate in ending the strike.

Leuenberger said he took the feelings of the local people very seriously but he urged the public not to support a cause that had no legal standing.

swissinfo with agencies

Federal Railways Cargo

Swiss Federal Railways Cargo is Switzerland's leading provider of freight services.

It has a workforce of about 4,400 and generated 12.3 billion net metric ton-km of traffic last year.

The cargo division was launched as a separate business unit in 2000 and has been plagued with deficits and restructuring.

After losing SFr190.4 million in 2007, it announced layoffs and relocations for sites in Bellinzona, Fribourg, Basel and Biel.

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