ETF Talks – EYR 2021: Boosting rail with railway workers on board?
December 2020 confirmed that 2021 will be the European Year of Rail. Against this backdrop, the ETF brought together MEP Karima Delli, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Transport and Tourism; Giorgio Tuti, Chair of the ETF Railway Section and President of Swiss union SEV, and Sabine Trier, ETF Deputy General Secretary to discuss the role of rail in contributing to climate goals, why policies have failed so far, the effects of social shortcomings of the sector on railways workers and what needs to be done to boost railways with its workforce on board.
Generally, rail is seen as a sector with good working conditions and secure employment, but in reality, it faces social dumping and demographic issues that will hit hard and hamper rail’s role in the climate transition if we don’t act now.
Giorgio Tuti explains that leaving railway workers out of policies and plans to boost the sector has already proven detrimental before, and must not be repeated. Four Railway Packages driven by competition and liberalisation have brought nothing but damage: precarious working conditions, demographic problems with less than 20% of women working in the sector and most of the workforce set to retire in a few years.
To further prove his point, Giorgio also lifts the veil on the lesser-known problem of social dumping in rail, created due to policies driven solely by competition: dumping in training, lack of controls in working time, dumping in wages and the increase in temporary agency workers, and insecurity in working conditions which leads to an overall fatal situation of social dumping in safety.
What needs to be done and how can the European Year of Rail come into play?
“If there are no railway workers, there is no rail transport”, exclaims Karima Delli as she commits to being the “spokesperson for transport workers in railways”. For her, this year needs to put them back on the scene, help them regain dignity, attract young workers and women and ensure good working conditions.
Delli expects this year to not only be a year of communication: there needs to be measures, investments, strong strategies at all levels, at European, national and local level. This also means dedicating part of the recovery plan to rail. And to ensure that rail can do its job as part of the solution to the climate transition, the rail freight sector must become a priority with proper investments. Something the ETF has been vocal about as this is key for the modal shift, but it is crucial that any investment goes hand in hand with fair working conditions.
This means no social dumping, “the poison of Europe” as Delli puts it, agreeing that this issue needs to be put on the agenda and brought to public attention to find concrete solutions.
For Delli, one key initiative will be to take the work of railway workers’ into consideration and call for decent salaries and resting time. “I believe that in their daily struggle, we need to support them.”
Points the ETF and Giorgio Tuti can only wholeheartedly agree with: the European Year of Rail cannot put aside railway workers.
This year needs to put the erroneous policies of rail and the poor working conditions, railway workers are facing at the centre of the debate in connection with the climate discussion. One of the key ways forward is to ensure investments to guarantee good jobs with fair working conditions to attract new workers and women to the sector.
“Investing in rail also means investing to improve the rather serious climate situation, but we need to do what’s necessary”, underlines Giorgio Tuti.
In any case, the ETF will be keeping a close eye to make sure this European Year of Rail puts measures with railway workers at the core into place to attract more women and young workers by ensuring quality and improvement of working conditions, respecting the rights of railway workers, ensuring their health and safety and eliminating wage and social dumping.