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Fico stops planned railway cuts

IN WHAT observers believe to be a populist move ahead of the December 2 municipal elections, PM Robert Fico has personally intervened to stop planned cuts to passenger railway service and possible layoffs in the company.

As of December 10, rail transporter Železničná Spoločnosť Slovensko (ZSSK) had planned to cut about 200 train lines due to low passenger numbers, to shorten service on another 250 lines, and fire up to 300 employees.

But Fico said following a cabinet session on November 29 that he would not tolerate the cuts, and threatened to fire the company's management if it decided to go ahead with the plan.

"If the company goes this way, its representatives will be replaced. Because cutting services or laying people off is the easy way out," Fico said.

According to the PM, the government is obliged to help Slovak workers become more mobile, and therefore it must preserve these train connections even if they are not profitable for the company.

The government also decided to increase ZSSK’s funding from the state budget because it provided a service in the public interest.

Last week the coalition council, a senior government body, decided to increase funding for ZSSK for 2007 by Sk0.5 billion to Sk5 billion. After the most recent cabinet session, however, it became clear that in order to keep the train lines open and avoid layoffs, the firm needed another Sk400 million.

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