Interview with Giorgio Tuti: “Europe Needs to Invest In Its Railway System”

16 May 2024

Switzerland is currently negotiating a new framework agreement with the EU. The union of Swiss transport workers SEV is demanding that the Swiss government does not give in to pressure from the EU Commission to agree to a market opening for international rail passenger transport. The SEV is also supporting the Swiss Trade Union Federation’s demand to protect wages. Switzerland’s negotiations are also in the interest of the ETF, the European Transport Workers’ Federation. The former SEV president Giorgio Tuti is president of the rail sector at the ETF. A discussion on current European politics.

As trade unions, we are often portrayed in the Swiss media as “slow-downs” when it comes to Switzerland’s relationship with the EU. How do you react to this accusation?

I have gradually gotten used to being called a slow-down. But it is fundamentally wrong to describe us as slow-downs. We are the first to say that we need regulated, good relations with the European Union. The EU has a lot of things that are very good and would improve the situation in Switzerland. But we criticize the things that would make the situation worse. On the one hand, we have to protect our wages. On the other hand, we have to defend the cooperation model in the railways. And we have 100 percent support from our partner trade unions in Europe. So if that means “slow-downs”, then I’m proud to be one.

We are fighting to maintain the direct awarding of services in rail transport. We are fighting for cooperation with foreign railway companies instead of competition. In other words, we are resisting the liberalisation dogma of the European Commission. Rightly so?

The competition system has damaged Europe. In Sweden, it was claimed that more competition would lead to better quality for customers and more trains, all at lower costs. The exact opposite has happened. The quality of rail services has worsened and costs have risen. Taxpayers and customers have been asked to pay more. In Germany, competition has led to absurd situations. For example: There are 310 companies in rail passenger transport. How many take part in a tender on average? 1.7 applicants (laughs). And that is supposed to be the big competition? That is not competition! It is pure ideology that competition should make everything better. The opposite is the case. These tenders cost taxpayers and companies huge amounts of money to achieve such a result at the end.

Switzerland and Austria, which award services directly and prefer cooperation models rather than holding competitions, are successful. They are the European rail champions with the most passengers in all of Europe. Is the European Commission finally having a change of mind?

Hope dies last. We have published an ETF position paper in which we call for an end to liberalisation policy and at the same time more investment in rail transport. The rail sector is part of the solution in the fight against climate change and should be promoted accordingly. At the moment, far too little is being invested in rail in most countries. In France it is only 46 euros per capita, in Germany 114 and in Italy 115 euros. In Switzerland it is 450 euros per capita. We urgently need a turnaround, a rethink in transport policy in Europe. There are parliamentary elections in the EU in a month. Perhaps this is an opportunity. It is important that we elect progressive forces that are committed to workers and to measures against climate change, among other things.

In Switzerland we share many problems with our European colleagues. Most European countries also have a shortage of staff in public transport and the safety of staff is under pressure in many places. Are there any signs of improvement or progress?

Yes, I can give you three examples. Firstly, “Women in Rail”. This is a binding agreement between the social partners that is intended to improve the situation of women who work in the rail sector. The aim is to make rail jobs more attractive in order to attract more women to the sector and thus combat the shortage of staff. There is constant small progress in this area. For example, in Verona, Italy, special parking spaces for women were recently created close to the workplaces. Women who work late shifts no longer have to be afraid when they go to their parked cars at night. That may not sound like much, but for the women directly affected, it represents a major improvement in their everyday working lives. Secondly, “Lingua Franca English”. The EU Commission wanted to use a fast-track procedure to introduce English as a compulsory language that train crews must speak when they travel across borders. We were able to block this approach for the time being through a “joint recommendation”, i.e. a joint recommendation by the employers’ association CER and the ETF within the framework of the social dialogue. The EU Commission must now first provide us with evidence of what the “common language” is supposed to achieve. If there are delays when crossing borders, it has nothing to do with the language, but rather with the technology; that is what everyone who knows anything about railways tells us. Thirdly, the so-called PSO regulation on direct awarding and competition. In a published interpretation guideline for the PSO regulation, the EU Commission has, contrary to the wording of the regulation and through the back door, given competition priority over the direct awarding of services. But the regulation defines competition and direct awarding as equal. The EU Commission as legislator? That is completely unacceptable and is not the Commission’s job. That is a scandal! We are now working with our Austrian partners to overturn this directive. An Austrian law professor has shown that this directive does not stand up to political and legal arguments. So there are many examples where we are making progress at the European level and have been able to achieve a lot in terms of trade unions, which is also helping us in Switzerland.

At the end of May, the ETF is calling for a major demonstration in Paris. Why?

The EU competition authority is currently taking action in several European countries. The reason is state support measures or subsidies that are not in line with EU state aid rules. In the case of DB and DB Cargo, Brussels is upset that DB is compensating for DB Cargo’s losses. The consequences for jobs and for rail freight transport will therefore be devastating and we are right to oppose this. A similar procedure is underway in France. As a result, SNCF Fret has already given up transport and is now being split up. This is completely absurd. We are talking about climate change and the shift in transport from road to rail. But fines and a de facto ban on support put companies under pressure and force them to take cost-cutting measures, reorganize and also reduce services. This is a huge contradiction. So we are going to Paris to protest against this senseless liberalization policy. It is important that we send a signal against the EU’s harmful liberalisation policy before the European elections.

Interview by Michael Spahr