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Belgian railway unions file strike notice for 31 May
The three main unions for Belgian railway employees have sent a formal strike notice for Tuesday 31 May to SNCB, Infrabel and HR-Rail.
As Belgium’s railway companies plan an increase in future offerings, unions want job guarantees to ensure employees aren’t faced with an increased workload. They claim it would take at least 4,000 new hires to meet the objectives SNCB is promising by 2032.
The strike at the end of the month is expected to result in little to no train travel for a full 24 hours, beginning 21.00 on Monday 30 May and ending at 21.00 on Tuesday May 31.
A slew of French and Dutch-speaking unions in Belgium have agreed unanimously to participate in the strike. They plan to support a day of action for the defence of public services in Belgium and underline the growing concerns of railway workers.
The country’s federal minister for mobility recently unveiled “Vision 2040” for Belgian railways, with goals that include increasing rail service by 10% and the number of passengers by 30% by the year 2032.
“We obviously support these goals, but behind these intentions, there is nothing concrete about the human and financial means to achieve them,” Pierre Lejeune, president of the CGSP-Cheminots union, told Le Soir.
“If we want everything to be complete, we should also add a social contract that defines how we are going to achieve these objectives, with what human means, what recruitment envelope, what human resources... Because the common point of the plans and vision already adopted is that there is not a single line about personnel. It’s the great absentee of this debate.”
Rail network already suffers from staff shortage says unions
As part of the strike, railway workers also intend to denounce the existing lack of staff in the network.
On 1 May, there were 28,135 staff members in major railway companies: 17,981 at SNCB, 9,556 at Infrabel and 598 at the subsidiary HR-Rail, which is responsible for recruitment.
“Infrabel announced 9,424 jobs at the end of April, but the CEO said they need 10,200 employees to be able to maintain the capacity of the current network,” Lejeune said.
“The SNCB is currently recruiting 1,130 jobs just for its operational needs. That's 2,000 essential jobs that need to be found by 2022. To date, 502 people have been recruited, but there have also been 578 departures. so we are still in a negative balance.”
The president of the socialist railway workers' union echoed concerns about a lack of staff, pointing out that the current shortages have already resulted in train cancellations with the current offer of the service.
Federal minister for mobility Georges Gilkinet acknowledged that the strike notice had been filed, calling it “no surprise”.
“During the long months of the pandemic, like other workers, they have been on board under difficult conditions and I thank them again,” Gilkinet said.
“I understand their expectation of preserving their status and of new resources to realise the rail ambitions set out in the Vision 2040 for rail. We are partners in this objective. SNCB's future public service contract must provide them with the answers they expect regarding the future of the railways and rail employment.”
Photo: © Virginie Lefour/Belga