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Stib drivers take transport company to court over right of withdrawal
At least 170 drivers are suing the Stib Brussels public transport company for not being able to exercise their right of withdrawal from work freely in May during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Several drivers refused to work after their requests were denied, due to what they claim was a lack of safety measures on the Stib network. The drivers are now going to the employment tribunal to demand that their wages be paid for the days they did not work in May.
During the first coronavirus wave, the drivers protested that they did not feel safe when the public transport network was reopened. When the drivers refused to work, they made it clear that it was not a strike, but an action in which a thousand drivers invoked their right of withdrawal.
This right of withdrawal allows employees to leave their post in an emergency. Stib staff claimed that there were not strict enough regulations to ensure the wearing of face masks and that the vehicles they operated were not adequately disinfected.
They also claimed to have had difficulty with the shift schedule which meant they spent long breaks in Stib relaxation areas where not enough safety precautions were taken. All these changes to working conditions had been implemented without consultation with the Committee for Prevention and Safety at Work, which also warned Stib of breaches of the welfare code.
"The right of withdrawal was the last resort of Stib personnel in an attempt to protect their health, that of their families and that of the passengers," explained lawyer Sophie Remouchamps. "They saw with their own eyes how vehicles were packed with people and poorly cleaned over the past few months. The current second wave could be a result of this."
According to Sophie Remouchamps, the drivers who invoked the right of withdrawal were threatened and financially punished by Stib. The drivers who took action between 11 and 17 May demand to be paid for those days. Stib cancelled those working days and therefore did not pay any wages.
"We saw that at the end of that month, when we received our payslips," said Stib bus driver Oliver Rittweger de Moor. "Those who were not working at the time were unlawfully absent, according to Stib. Those days were not paid, which meant an average loss of wages of €300 to €400 per driver."
"We were also threatened with redundancies, because those who are unlawfully absent for three consecutive days can get dismissed for that,” he added. “In some depots, there were threats of closure, or even the privatisation of some lines," said the bus driver.
"The law was not respected," said Sophie Remouchamps, who now represents more than 170 drivers. "Moreover, Stib refused any form of mediation." The case was filed on Wednesday in the employment tribunal. The first hearings are expected to take place early next year.
"Everyone stands by their position," a Stib spokeswoman responded. 'We therefore continue to believe that the right of withdrawal does not apply here."