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Stib drivers lose court case over pandemic working conditions

13:54 20/04/2023

Drivers for Brussels public transport operator Stib who stopped working during the pandemic due to what they described as an exposure to "serious and immediate danger" have lost their case at an employment tribunal.

The drivers were deprived of a portion of their salary after invoking their "right to withdraw" in May 2020, Le Soir reports, arguing that their duties put them in harm’s way by exposing them to Covid.

But the Brussels labour court stated in its ruling that the conditions for exercising this right were not met.

On 11 and 17 May 2020, when Belgium was emerging from its first coronavirus shutdown, more than 1,000 Stib staff refused to take up their duties.

Management had just decided to reduce the security measures designed to protect staff, including a reinstatement of split shifts, which involve drivers taking breaks mid-route and handing over to a replacement driver without the cab being disinfected.

Stib withdrew pay from drivers who refused to work in the wake of this rollback of safety measures, saying the absences were unjustified.

About 250 of the affected drivers brought proceedings before the Brussels labour court in January 2021, seeking payment for those days.

In its judgement, the court recognised the effectiveness of the right to withdrawal but considered that in the circumstances, the conditions for invoking it were not met, claiming that the reduction in safety measures did not expose the tram or bus drivers to serious and immediate danger.

The court did, however, consider that Stib committed a series of failures in the implementation of its decision, including the lack of any risk analysis before modifying the safety measures, the fact that the committee for prevention and protection at work was not consulted before any decision was taken, and the fact that the workers were not involved in the process.

“Given the unprecedented circumstances, Stib was not able to follow in full the form established by the welfare code,” the ruling states.

“For example, as a precautionary measure, restricted face-to-face meetings were initially organised before the Stib was technically able to set up remote meetings in which all delegates could participate. This does not, however, call into question the relevance of the protection measures put in place for its workers by the company.”

For its handling of the implementation of safety measures, the court ordered the company to pay a symbolic €1 to each of the claimants as moral damages.

The employees and their lawyer will consider appealing after reviewing the formal written judgment.

Written by Helen Lyons