COVID-19: “Women railway workers are torn between the importance of our job and our fear of spreading the virus to our families”, says Italian train guard

10 Apr 2020

An Italian train guard (onboard personnel) sheds light on the situation of railway workers in Italy:

Since March 9, Italy is on complete lockdown and all economic activities except essential sectors have closed down, except for essential sectors which include railways. Though Italy has reduced railway traffic since March 9 for three main reasons:

  • To protect workers
  • To protect passengers
  • To avoid the movement of people inside the country

At the moment high-speed services aren’t running, only a few trains per day from northern to southern Italy, and only 30% of the regional service is running. All ticket and customer assistance booths are closed. Maintenace hubs are running on a minimum service and office personnel are working from home. As factories in Italy have closed, very few commuters are travelling at the moment and this somewhat reduces the risk.

When asked what her company was doing to protect its active workers, she replied that masks, gloves and cleaning products have been provided to onboard personnel and drivers.

Onboard personnel is no longer required to check tickets and reserve a section in first class. Roaster shifts are managed in a way that staff can avoid sleeping overnight away from home or having their meals on the trains. Trains are sanitised every day, and drivers have been given special cleaning products to clean their area when they change trains.

Personnel have also received instructions regarding how to wash hands, how to use protective equipment, and how to manage a passenger suspected of carrying COVID-19.

Staff still have access to toilets, and both staff rooms and toilets are being constantly sanitised. Trains are being sanitised as well, she repeats but adds that she and her colleagues are no longer spending as much time on board as before as their shifts have been dramatically reduced.

When asked about the reduced shifts and how this is affecting employment and salaries, she tells us that office staff is continuing to work from home, but ticketing staff are at home without a job or have been put on holiday leave. As part of on-board personnel, she herself is working shifts which are created depending on the need for services; there is no part-time.

She also tells us that the government has given all parents with children under 12 (not just railways staff) an extra 15 days off, and many of her colleagues are using this opportunity to stay home.

Regarding pay, she tells us:

“As you can imagine, company earnings have fallen dramatically. A joint committee with unions and the company has been created to face the crisis. There is a company welfare plan: we have a special fund to protect workers from economic shocks. This fund was initially meant to be used in case we lose out on a competitive tender, but in this case, a collective bargaining agreement has ensured, for a while, that this fund is used to guarantee our salaries”.

“At the moment we are fine, but of course we have to hope that the lockdown won’t last too long.”

When asked about how she feels about the current situation, she tells us that she and her colleagues are waiting to see how the situation will develop. She points out however that there needs to be a special focus on women onboard personnel who like her are scared of spreading the disease to their families.

“Women railway workers are torn between the awareness of the importance of our job at the moment and our fear of spreading the virus to our families. In Italy, women are the main caregivers and are in close contact with the elderly, and with children. It is not easy going back home with the idea of carrying COVID-19 and spreading it to your family weighing on you.”


If you have a story to share, please contact:

Zala Turšič, European Transport Workers’ Federation
Communications Officer
+32 478 79 41 12

Begüm Boynukalin, European Transport Workers’ Federation
Communications Officer
+32 478 79 40 53