Polish border staff returns to work
Bringing a possible end to a five-day strike
Polish customs officials returned to normal working hours on Tuesday, bringing a possible end to a five-day strike that had stranded thousands of lorries and rail cars on borders with Belarus, Ukraine and Russia`s Kaliningrad province, according to DPA.
Polish frontier checkpoints were fully staffed and operating normally along the Belarusian border, and lorry jams at heavily used sites were slowly dissipating as Polish officials processed the backlog, said Aleksander Tishchenko, a Belarus customs official.
"There are still waits. The vehicle queues are two to three kilometres long, consisting of some 40 lorries," he said. "But the situation is normalizing."
Traffic already was moving normally at a few checkpoints between Poland and Belarus, he added.
Polish customs officials had similarly broken off collective actions along the Ukrainian border as well, according to an unconfirmed ICTV television news report.
The Polish strike targeted at freight lorries and trains had at its peak created traffic jams exceeding 60 kilometres, and waits of up to three days for hapless lorry drivers.
Belarus` and Ukraine`s governments, fearing ecological damage from the idling lorries and a public health threat from thousands of lorry drivers stuck on rural highways, had been providing food and shelter to motorists at public expense, in some cases since Saturday.
Ukraine`s government estimated state income lost due to reduced customs proceeds, and costs connected with supporting the stranded drivers, at more than 8 million dollars a day.
Belarus` government intended to sue Poland and if necessary the European Union for damages suffered from the wildcat strike, according to a Belarus Ministry of Justice statement cited by the Belapan news agency.
The Polish strike came in response to refusal by the Warsaw government to improve working conditions for customs workers after Poland became a member of the Schengen Treaty at the beginning of 2008, which obliged Poland to enforce more complicated and stringent border rules.
The customs workers are demanding a monthly pay rise of 1,500 zloty (600 dollars) as well as earlier retirement and better protection from attacks.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Monday described the strike as "unfortunate" and hinted he would meet with representatives of the customs workers in the near future.
Irate drivers interviewed by Ukrainian reporters threatened to take their lorries to Warsaw and blockade the central government if the dispute is not resolved quickly, according to a Monday Deutsche Welle report.