Belgium must invest in railway workers to ensure staff and passenger security

7 Dec 2021

Following a vicious attack on a Belgian train conductor, ETF Railway Section calls on the Belgian government and national railway company, SNCB, to step up investments to solve issues of understaffing and insecurity.

On Friday 26 November 2021, a train conductor working for SNCB was the victim of a vicious attack in the station of Ottignies. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. According to numbers SNCB, this year alone there have been over 1300 cases of aggression against members of staff. That is an increase of 56 percent compared to the same period in 2020 and 53 percent compared to 2019, before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. This not only has serious impact on the physical health of the workers concerned, it also impacts their mental health and that of their colleagues. Many SNCB employees are shocked by the incident in Ottignies and have expressed their solidarity through spontaneous work stoppages and on social media.

The Railway Section of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), stands in solidarity with our Belgian colleagues. Like them, we regret the structural underinvestment in staff that has led to deserted stations and trains. Increasingly more often, train conductors in Belgium have to do their work alone instead of in pairs and security staff is not able to perform their basic tasks due to understaffing. This puts both workers and passengers in dangerous situations. We point out that protecting the health and safety of workers in the workplace is a responsibility of the employer. Already in 2012, the social partners at European level (ETF and CER) agreed on joint recommendations to prevent third-party violence.

No number of security cameras can replace the role of the colleagues in stations and on board trains. No machines will be able to replace the social control of the ticket counter employee. Empty trains and stations, especially late at night, will only further endanger the safety of the SNCB’s employees and passengers.

Therefore, we urge the SNCB and the Belgian authorities to invest in the railway workers and start mass recruitment to solve the issues of understaffing. 2021 is the European Year of Rail. We call on you to make sure it is also the European Year of Railway Workers, by ensuring the necessary investments to provide good service and decent working conditions.