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Rail strike on 28 May, unions threaten additional action
Unions representing rail staff are reported to be considering new strike action after comments made at the weekend by Jo Cornu, CEO of the rail authority SNCB. A study ordered by the SNCB into productivity compares its staff with other major rail authorities in France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Cornu (pictured) described the study as “completely logical”.
The socialist union ACOD said it was “scandalous” that the authority would commission a study to find out if staff were working hard enough. “And this at a time when SNCB owes its staff 70,000 compensation days, just to allow the trains to run seven days a week,” general-secretary Jean Pierre Goossens said. The union also said it had not been informed of the study in advance.
The Christian union ACV, meanwhile, said the workers were being “targeted” and questioned whether the study would be used as an excuse by the government for new reforms to the rail system.
“In recent years, rail services have been liberalised, and we are now in competition with other rail companies,” Cornu told Het Nieuwsblad. “SNCB has to be competitive, and that’s what this study is intended to prepare for. I’m surprised the staff are so angry. Do they mean to say we should close our eyes to how we perform? Anyone who has a problem with this study is not interested in the future of the company.”
SNCB has been forced to recall train conductors out of retirement this year to help deal with an expected shortage. In the near future, the rail authority will face the loss of a large number of staff due to holiday entitlements and other compensatory days off.
At the start of the year, SNCB said it would employ 360 new conductors – who act as ticket inspectors, close doors and carry out other tasks. So far, 196 have been taken on. The invitation to retired conductors is voluntary, but unions said about 60 would be required.
Meanwhile, ASTB, the union representing train drivers, has announced it will strike on 28 May in protest at pay scales and premiums. The union represents about one in four of the authority’s 3,800 drivers, but disruption could be widespread. The action will begin on 27 May at 22.00 and last until 3.00 on 29 May.
Photo courtesy VRT