Serb workers end Danube blockade, navigation resumes

BELGRADE, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Workers at a Serbian shipping company on Tuesday ended their blockade of the Danube river, one of Europe's main waterways, which started last week in protest over wage arrears.

The blockade made of ships and barges forced the authorities to halt navigation in the area about 70 kilometres (50 miles) north of the capital Belgrade and disrupted supplies of Euro-diesel fuel for the country's market.

Port authorities in the northern city of Novi Sad said on Tuesday that navigation along the Danube may resume. 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.

Novica Cvetkovic, a ship captain and a union activist, said the management of the Dunav Agregati shipping company and government representatives had agreed to pay immediately four overdue wages to workers.

"The remainder of two (overdue) wages will be paid by November," Cvetkovic said. "We will continue discussions about payments of health and pension benefits," he said.

This is the second Danube blockade staged by workers of the Dunav Agregati this year. In April, they also halted navigation along the Danube over unpaid wages and benefits.

The Socialist-led Serbian government has been unable to calm rising social discontent caused by an economic downturn and austerity measures, although it came to power in July on populist pledges to boost employment and spending to spur growth.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Keiron Henderson)