Standing still in Solidarity: Workers in the Transport Sector Call for Safer Working Conditions

22 Apr 2024

Across the Netherlands on Saturday, trams, buses, metros, and trains came to a standstill for a few minutes. This pause was not due to technical issues or scheduling conflicts; rather, a symbolic protest the rising tide of violence faced by transportation workers. It’s a call to action by trade unions and companies to ensure a safer working condition. The national railways (NS) along with most public transport companies all stopped for three minutes on Saturday night at 10.30pm.

10.30pm was the time of very serious incident recently when a female member of on-board staff of NS was thrown down the stairs of a double-decker train, kicked and punched and had her arm broken by a gang of youths.

It is the latest serious incident in a series of violence against transport workers. The NS registered 1,042 reports of violent incidents last year, 8 percent more than in 2022. A third year in a row that incidents of violence increased.

Trade unions representing rail and public transport workers have called on government to act. They propose five concrete measures

  1. Access to identify verification systems. Security officers in public transport must be given access to identify verification systems. At the moment they have to wait for the police to determine the identity of the perpetrators. This involves a long waiting time which often results in further aggression and violence.
  2. Expansion of powers of officers. The powers of the security officers must be expanded. Under current policy rules, security officers are instructed they don’t have authorisation to intervene in certain cases and must withdraw and to leave the intervention to the police.
  3. Greater international cooperation to ensure the safety of international public transport staff and travellers. Police authorities have good cooperation across borders this must also be the case for transport staff.
  4. Launch of a campaign to promote respect for all public servants, including public transport staff.
  5. Reports by public transport staff in cases of aggression and violence should be treated with the highest level of importance. The current treatment of incidents by the public prosecutor and police authorities can be very adversarial for workers, with workers often being told that it is a case of your word against the word of the perpetrator.

The protest is not just a reaction to isolated incidents; it is a response to systemic issues that have long plagued the transportation industry. Workers are demanding meaningful action from governments and transportation authorities to address these underlying problems and ensure their safety on the job. At the heart of this protest is a fundamental principle: the right of workers to perform their duties in a safe and secure environment. No one should have to fear for their safety while carrying out their work responsibilities. It is the responsibility of employers, government agencies, and society as a whole to uphold this basic right.

In the end, this protest is not just about a few minutes of silence; it is about amplifying the voices of workers who have been silenced for too long. It is about reclaiming their right to dignity, respect, and safety in the workplace. And it is a reminder that when workers unite, they have the power to bring about meaningful change.