Fourth Railway Package: more competition requires more social protection, says transport workers union

Written by Sabine Trier on 11 July 2016 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

The European Parliament should reject the Fourth Railway Package's flawed and confusing trialogue compromise, argues Sabine Trier

The political pillar of the Fourth Railway Package is entering its final stage with the trialogue compromise being put forward for endorsement by the European Parliament's transport and tourism committee.

We, at European Transport Workers' Federation, are calling for the trialogue compromise's rejection since the proposal fails to recognise and accommodate the need for more social protection when more competition is being introduced.

The political pillar of the Fourth Railway Package (the Public Service Obligations (PSO) Regulation 1370/2007) is basically the next step towards more liberalisation of the sector.


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In that context we highly welcomed the position of the European Parliament in its first reading on reinstalling the right for member states to directly award public service contracts to railway companies.

More importantly, the position of the European Parliament also aimed at improving the protection of employment and working conditions of public transport workers who are exposed to competitive tendering and consequently the risk of losing their job.

The trialogue compromise preserves the possibility of directly awarding public service contracts but creates legal uncertainty by defining confusing criteria. Consequently it will discourage member states to make use of this option to the detriment of public transport workers who will be even more exposed to job uncertainty.

It is a fact that every tender procedure comes with higher absenteeism and turnover rates due to increased stress levels among the staff.  

Improved protection of workers is therefore imperative when aiming for more competition in public transport. The trialogue compromise lacks any ambition in that sense since it only expresses the expectation that operators apply the existing law which, in its current state, does not offer any protection of jobs and working conditions in case of competitive tendering.

A competitive tendering procedure resulting in a change of operator is not considered to be a transfer of undertaking (Directive 2001/23/EC).

For that reason the European Parliament had requested that competent authorities shall protect staff via a compulsory transfer of staff as one of two possible options.

Every tender procedure allows competitors to submit a cheaper offer, often achieved by lowering personnel costs and salaries and by worsening working conditions.

Staff costs represent up to 75 per cent of the overall expenses in the bus sector and up to 50 per cent in railway or integrated public transport companies. These practices automatically lead to social dumping.

To prevent that from happening the European Parliament decided that competent authorities shall, as the second option, require from every competitor respect of social standards valid at the place where the service is being provided.

That would create a level playing field for all bidders. The reference in the trialogue compromise to the applicable collective agreement cannot deliver the same level of protection since only few EU member states work with binding sectoral collective agreements in the public transport sector.

In most countries only company collective agreements exist. Without an applicable collective bargaining agreement competitors are allowed to underbid.  

The European trade union movement and our federation in particular call for a more social Europe with better protection of workers and their rights. The sense of urgency for such a transition has been illustrated with the Brexit campaign where the majority of the workers voted in favour of leaving the EU.

We urge the European Parliament not to go along anymore with the philosophy of a Europe deciding on more internal market while the national, regional or local levels have to bear the social consequences.

The first step for the European Parliament to demonstrate that it understands the need for change, in order to preserve the European project, is by taking up its responsibility and rejecting the trialogue compromise on PSO Regulation.

About the author

Sabine Trier is Deputy General Secretary of the European Transport Workers' Federation and Political Secretary for Railways

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