Train drivers raise concerns about the future of the rail industry at ETF conference

Train drivers raise concerns about the future of the rail industry at ETF conference

ETF: European Transport Worker's Federation — 2023-04-27

News from Brussels

The ETF held a conference on the Future of Train Driving on 2023 April 26, against the backdrop of the upcoming revision of the Train Drivers Directive, which regulates training and certification standards of train drivers in the European Union.

The conference provided a unique opportunity for train drivers to make their voices heard in the presence of the European Commission’s DG MOVE, Director of Land Transport, Kristian Schimdt, and MEPs Karima Delli and Ismail Ertug.

Rail can never be a moneymaker, it’s a public service that should serve the public, according to train drivers from across the continent who attended the conference. Years of EU policies focused on profits, pushing more and more liberalisation and competition, are keeping rail from achieving its true potential as the backbone of sustainable transport. These policies that bring down labour costs are also driving workers out and away from the sector. Train drivers warned that the situation in the road transport sector will be repeated in the rail transport sector if this continues.

ETF General Secretary Livia Spera highlighted the rampant worker shortage in transport and the need to attract young workers to the sector. For this to happen, working conditions need to improve, and the upcoming EU elections provide an opportunity to do so, urged Spera.

ETF Railway Section Chair Giorgio Tuti confirmed the crucial need for the rail profession to be attractive but also underlined the importance of social dialogue and the need for the European Commission to listen to social partners. This point was supported by CER Director Alberto Mazzola, who mentioned the Joint Recommendations on the Train Drivers Directive. When social partners in rail come together and agree on something, then it should be taken into consideration by the European Commission.

One of the most contentious issues discussed at the conference was the European Commission’s intention to amend the language requirement (currently B1) for train drivers to allow them to drive in more countries and boost international rail.

Train drivers all agreed that either lowering the language requirement, introducing a common language, most likely English, or a digital translation tool, would tremendously put the safety of everyone at risk. Train drivers must be able to speak to everyone involved in rail operations, and in emergency situations, where national services are involved. It would be a “horror show” if they were not able to comprehend one another.

They expressed outrage at the idea because there are already many problems that are making working conditions and job quality worse, which is discouraging potential train drivers from entering the profession. Another concern raised by train drivers was that lowering the language requirement would lead to exploitation and social dumping as companies could then more easily outsource train drivers’ work, even hire train drivers from lower-wage countries, and ignore labour rights as we see in the road transport sector today. Already, with subcontracting growing in rail companies, there have been cases of unqualified train drivers with no knowledge of the route driving for extended periods of time, putting everyone at risk.

Train drivers emphasised that what is needed is more investment in rail, in the workforce, quality and longer periods of training, tools to monitor rest times and working times, and stronger regulations to address working time violations and abusive subcontracting.

MEP Karima Delli underlined that the EU cannot say that they want a Green Deal, but then not invest in rail. Widely applauded by the train drivers present, Delli emphasised that the rail profession is not given the value it deserves, and this is what is driving people out and away from the industry.

MEP Ismail Ertug agreed that the rail sector cannot become the new road sector, and mistakes done in road transport should be avoided. In this sense, digital enforcement tools to monitor working and rest time and avoid exploitation would benefit the sector.

Though EU Commissioner Kristian Schmidt was unable to say anything about what would be in the proposal for the revision of the Train Drivers Directive, he did say that any proposal on languages cannot reduce safety. The ETF will hold the European Commission to this and also work to ensure that the proposal does not lower working conditions.