Rail workers on strike to save Belgian railways

4 Oct 2022

Belgium’s rail workers from unions CGSP Cheminots, ACOD Spoor, ACV-Transcom, CSC-Transcom and SLFP Cheminots, VSOA Spoor are on strike this October 5 to call on the government to invest in rail.

Belgian rail workers want to provide better services to commuters and contribute to making rail the backbone of mobility. And they can, but only if the government allocates proper funds.

On the one hand, the Belgian government wants to double the modal share of rail passengers in Belgium and increase rail freight. On the other hand, it continues to cut services further and underfinances the rail system.

Now, rail workers find themselves at a critical turning point: the Belgian government will soon decide on the budget for rail for the next 10 years.

This strike action is to save the Belgian rail system and sends a clear message: workers want sufficient funding, more staff, but also a pay rise to cope with the rising cost of living.

15 years of the government underfunding Belgian Railways have led to:

  • 22.000 cancelled trains between January and June 2022,  due to staff shortage
  • An accumulation of thousands of days of overtime that rail workers cannot take off due to staff shortages
  • Scrapping of 1500 jobs since 2020
  • No real pay rise for rail workers since the 90s (back in 2008, they had an adaptation of salary scales, but this hardly counts as a real pay rise)
  • Job vacancies not being filled due to the unattractiveness of the job
  • More and more rail workers leaving the sector due to poor working conditions

2022 is not only the Belgian government’s last chance to save rail, but it’s also their last chance to award SNCB a direct contract to run Belgian trains for the next 10 years.

If they don’t, then they open up the Belgian rail system to competition and privatisation of the rail system. The pressure to act now comes from the EU, with policies pushing for liberalisation and competition.

The European Transport Workers’ Federation maintains that rail must be in public hands. If Belgium does open up to competition, the public can expect worse services and more downward pressure on working conditions which will cause even more staff shortages and fewer services – the UK, which privatised its rail services in 1993, is a clear example of this.

The Belgian government has one last chance to make it right. Rail workers are determined to save Belgian rail, and now the government must get on the right track.