The future of the European railway sector is not on track: “we need people”



In the next ten years, 45% of train drivers in Europe will retire.

The situation is not unique to the railway sector. In the road sector, three out of ten drivers will retire within three years, with four to seven times fewer young drivers to take their place.

“We need people,” said Livia Spera, general secretary of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), during a conference held at its headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday 26 April. “Working conditions must improve and the attractiveness of the railway sector is absolutely crucial”.

To discuss the challenges of the sector, the association, which represents five million workers, brought together MEPs, drivers, social partners and the director of land transport for the European Commission, Kristian Schmidt.

“We all agree that the current directive is not fit for purpose,” he said.

The Commission is currently preparing its proposal for the revision of the Train Drivers Directive, the regulation which sets common minimum requirements for the certification, training and competence of train drivers.

There’s no draft text on the table yet, so Schmidt couldn’t reveal any policy or concrete steps.

What the Commission’s director of land transport has revealed is that the priority of the review will be to tackle the operational inefficiencies that make this mode of transport more expensive.

According to an analysis of the potential of the cross-border rail system by the European Union Railways Agency (ERA), technical, administrative and legal obstacles are the main obstacles to reducing journey times and improving the competitiveness of rail transport.

A driver in the Strasbourg room illustrated the problem well: his trip through Switzerland was delayed for up to two hours due to a problem with the transmission of documents.

ERA analyst Torben Holvad also pointed to language as an obstacle.

For trade unions and workers, the main concern is that the Commission proposes to lower the minimum language level (set at intermediate level B1), to require English as the common language or to use machine translation tools.

“The introduction of English [and retraining] would entail significant costs and reduce competitiveness,” commented Alberto Mazzola, Director of the European Community of Railway and Infrastructure Undertakings (CER).

For another driver present at the conference, changes in this area would endanger the safety of people. “If we reduce it [the language requirement]we will actually reduce security,” he said.

During the three and a half hours of contributions, you could almost see the boomerang going from one end of the room to the other, but always in the direction of the Commission.

Schmidt, whom the ETF General Secretary did not call a “friend” during the panel presentation (as she did to the invited MEPs), repeatedly stressed that the language was not not the primary focus of this review.

The Commission is not “obsessed” with the language requirement, he even asserted.

The social partners, trade unions and workers fear that the situation in the road transport sector will be repeated in the rail transport sector.

They want to avoid “social dumping”, where companies hire workers from third countries, pay them below the minimum wage and do not respect their labor rights.

This situation can now be seen in Germany, where workers in Uzbekistan and Georgia have been demonstrating for months against poor working conditions and unpaid wages.

For the ETF and the CER, the challenge is clear: harmonization of procedures, yes. Changing language requirements, no.

Digital license, yes. Single license for all certifications (whether national, European or company-specific) and valid for all companies, no.

“Driving licenses and supplementary certificates should not be merged due to their differences, as they cover different professional requirements and knowledge and cannot be fully harmonized at European level,” reads a statement from the two. organizations.


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