Europe

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Serb workers block Danube in protest over wage arrears

Fedja Grulovic

Published 27/09/2012 | 13:01

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WORKERS at a Serbian shipping company blocked the Danube river near northern city Novi Sad on Thursday in a protest over wage arrears, forcing authorities to halt navigation in the area and cutting off an important European supply waterway.

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The Danube connects Western Europe with the Black Sea and is vital for economies of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Romania, through which it flows.

The river blockade has also prevented access to the Novi Sad's oil refinery run by the NIS, Serbia's top fuel producer and supplier, owned by Russia's Gazprom.

Employees of the Dunav Agregati river shipping company anchored ships and barges in the middle of the navigable channel outside the city, about 70 kilometres (50 miles) north of the capital Belgrade, for the second time this year.

In April, they also halted navigation along the Danube over unpaid wages and benefits, now overdue for more than six months.

"We will not give up this time ... we have no other solution," said Novica Cvetkovic, a ship captain and a union activist. "This time we want all our wages as we are on the verge of existence."

The Socialist-led Serbian government that came to power in July has been unable to calm rising social discontent with an economic downturn and austerity measures.

Separately on Thursday, dozens of agricultural engineers rallied in downtown Belgrade demanding to get back jobs that were taken from them by the new government last month.

The previous Democrats-led government had hired about 1,600 agricultural engineers to help farmers improve production halved by drought this summer, but the new government fired them to make savings.

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