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How did you get involved in the railways?
As a child, I always dreamed of becoming a soldier. After the Polish TV series “Four Men in a Tank with a Dog” was shown, I started playing at soldiers with the other boys, and even in my dreams I saw myself in an officer’s uniform.
One day, my father took me to the station, where I got really scared seeing a steam-engine and hearing its mighty hooting for the first time. But my encounter with the railway, and all my father’s descriptions of what a railwayman’s work involved, made me rethink my future career.
After leaving school I attended the Chernigov Technical College of Railway Transport. I was assigned to the South-Eastern Railway, as a carriage inspector.
Although we got practical training on the railway, at first we did not have enough practical skills. So the “old hands” came to our rescue, sharing their experience with us and giving us practical advice. Looking at their responsible attitude to their work, to the safety of train traffic, I, too, started developing the characteristics of a railway worker.
One of the toughest ordeals, especially at the beginning, was the night shifts. I used to tell myself: “Working on the railway is almost like being in the army—discipline is absolutely essential!”
These days I call myself an “amateur trainer”, since in addition to my immediate duties I am a team-leader.
How do you find the work now?
It can be hard: 12 hours on the trot inspecting carriages and eliminating any defects is not work for the weak. We are used both to foul weather, with rain, wind, snow and ice, and to the summer heat, when the temperature can rise above 30 degrees and the air around the carriages becomes suffocating.
Of course, after many years on the job my body has readjusted. I’ve learned to rest before the night shift, so as to stay alert on the job and not lose a single valuable minute. After all, I carry a huge responsibility. And I have to work conscientiously whatever the weather’s like. So even draughts and high-voltage overhead wires don’t scare me. Work is work.
Every morning, half an hour before the shift begins, a ‘flight-analysis’ is conducted, when the head of the maintenance unit asks the now routine question: “Did they arrive safely?” – in other words, was the safety of train traffic assured in our sector.
Together, we analyse and grade any “failures” in both our sector and neighbouring sectors. We classify even a delay of only one or two minutes in a train’s progress as an emergency incident. And even though there is less train traffic nowadays than there used to be, the work schedule is still intensive. In the course of a shift you have to inspect dozens of trains, and immediately sound the alarm if even the most insignificant defect is discovered. After all, we are responsible for people’s safety, for people’s confidence in the railway.
How do continue improving your skills?
Training is essential here. Our work is constantly demanding new skills. So technical classes are held every month. Once every two years there are exams. Today, for example, with the introduction of high-speed trains, new and even higher requirements have appeared. And if you miss even one or two classes you have to take an additional test.
So the ‘Safety First!’ slogan of the ITF international Day of Action, in which we participate every year, has a direct relevance to us carriage-inspectors, too.
Incidentally, in my work I rely not just on my knowledge but also on the years of experience I’ve got under my belt. Sometimes, I even “feel” a hidden defect in a carriage by pure intuition. And since I am already seen as an old hand, I am happy to share my experience with the young people.
Are there any unresolved problems that worry you?
Of course. There are 743 workers at the carriage depot, and they are all members of the Trade Union Council of Railway Workers and Transport Builders of the Ukraine.
As a member of the union, I am deeply concerned about what tomorrow will bring at the station and the carriage depot, about the working conditions here. I am concerned, for example, by the deterioration of the parts in the brake rigging, the lack of the necessary tools, the shortage of spare parts, the poor quality of the protective clothing and footwear. The trade union committee and the management are tackling these and other urgent issues at the negotiating table. It can be tough going, but we are trying to resolve the issues that are troubling the railway workers, on their behalf.
And if you don’t succeed?
Then the entire trade union committee of the carriage depot will enter into an industrial dispute with the management. And since there are 15 of us on the trade union committee, we are a force to be reckoned with.
Together, we defend the rights of the union’s members, fight for longer summer holidays for the carriage workers and their families, help retired workers, give financial assistance to the needy, defend the rights of those threatened by unfair dismissal, and monitor the implementation of the collective agreement.
We try to do whatever we can to make life at the depot the common concern of management and the trade union committee. That’s why the next issue on our agenda is to turn one of the rooms into a canteen.
We also support youth initiatives. For example, we helped the recently formed football team to buy their kit. And we marked the 100th anniversary of our union this year with both industrial achievements and a boat trip on the Dnieper river organised by the trade union committee.
Our initiatives are always supported by the union. It was our union that secured a 38-hour working week for women repair workers, instead of the 40-hour working week that they used to have. And success, however small, is always encouraging. Even though there is still a lot of work to do, I am certain that we are up to the job of resolving the difficulties. As they say, he who knocks will be let in.
Issue 22 January 2006
Other pages for Issue 22 January 2006:
Agreements deliver | Comment | When will trade deliver? | Damned if they do... | New dawn for decency? | HIV/AIDS enters the mainstream | Tense times as Kenya railways takes new direction | Reflections: On border liberalisation | Transport for all? | Women take the wheel | Figuring out the World Bank
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