Rail personnel have complained about a decision by the national rail authority SNCB to make staff take as many of their accumulated holidays and rest days while the service is partially reduced as a result of the new coronavirus (Covid-19).
According to the independent union SIC-OVS, the SNCB is “misusing the crisis” by forcing personnel to take days off only to sit home in confinement.
The problem concerns compensation days, which staff earn when they work overtime or on their normal days off. Those have accumulated in the past, but the SNCB now intends to take advantage of the reduced service to make staff take off the days owing to them.
“The SNCB is misusing the corona crisis to find solutions to problems it created itself,” said Joachim Permentier of the Independent Union of Railway Personnel (SIC).
“Due to staff shortages, part of the operational staff has built up a large package of rest and compensation days in recent years – days that were not allocated in the year to which they applied due to insufficient staff at that time. It is very cynical now, that this crisis is being used to make up for the backlog. People are forced to stay at home today, but have nowhere to go. Such compensation days are normally used to take a trip with the family, not quarantine at home. That is really very painful.”
The SNCB claims it is doing nothing wrong.
“When work is reduced, we try to get rid of accrued leave days from the past,” said Barbara Kielbaey, press officer of HR-Rail, the official employer of SNCB employees. “This decision was taken in consultation with the recognised unions.”
The socialist union CGSP-ACOD agrees the action is legal, but finds it nonetheless regrettable.
“Legally, the SNCB is indeed doing nothing wrong, but this does not feel right at all,” said Stefan T’Jolyn of ACOD Spoor Limburg. “This arrangement was drawn up elaborated before the coronavirus was heard of. Those people who worked extra days at the time because of staff shortages did not do so for pleasure, but because they wanted to help out. We hope this can be done differently in the future, with more respect for staff.”