Rail industry worker shortage crisis: Why better working conditions are vital

14 Apr 2023

As the worker shortage crisis in the rail industry continues, rail workers across Europe are taking action to demand better working conditions and increased investment in staff.

Today, in Italy, rail workers are striking to demand better work-life balance, reduced workloads, improved training, and additional hires to support the sector. But the sentiment of Italy’s Trenitalia rail workers is echoed all over Europe.

In the Netherlands, rail companies have been forced to cancel services due to a lack of staff. Dutch rail company NS even went as far as using office workers as on-board staff. Rail workers have taken strike action due to employers’ refusal to provide concrete and viable solutions to address the worker shortage crisis and improve working conditions. Similarly, in Belgium, rail workers have gone on strike to protest against a lack of staff and the impact it has had on their working conditions. In Germany, rail workers have taken strike action to demand fair pay and better working conditions. Over in the UK, there is an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions.

These strikes always come as a last resort and are never taken lightly. They are a wake-up call to employers and governments to invest in the workforce, provide better working conditions, and ensure sustainable and quality rail services for all. Without adequate investment in staff and infrastructure, rail cannot play its part as the backbone of sustainable transport, and it will have serious consequences for the economy, environment, and society at large.

The shortage of staff has put immense pressure on the existing workforce, leading to burnout, stress, and a high turnover rate. Improving working conditions can help to alleviate this pressure, improve morale, and attract new talent to the industry – something that is becoming increasingly urgent by the minute, given the ageing workforce.

The ongoing strikes in the rail industry are a clear indication of the urgent need to address the worker shortage crisis and improve working conditions for rail workers. The ETF is working closely with its affiliates across Europe to support the demands of rail workers and push for concrete action from employers. Together, we demand increased investment in staff, better working conditions, and employers to come to the table and engage in good-faith talks with unions.

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