Between 50 and 100 people from the ACOD socialist union for railway workers staged a protest in front of the cabinet of Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) in Brussels on Monday to demand additional investments in the railways.
The union wants the federal government to invest more in the railways and increase recruitment, Belga News Agency reports, saying that they’re losing workers in huge numbers: 1,100 people left last year and around 3,500 have left in the past three years.
“The workforce is exhausted,” said Pierre Lejeune, president of ACOD Spoor.
“HR Rail (note: the legal employer of rail staff) said it has recruited 2,679 people by 2021, but that includes the 1,250 internal promotions. So in reality, only 1,429 new employees joined the railways in 2021. In the same period, 2,565 staff left, which amounts to a loss of 1,136 workers in just one year.”
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In the budget review currently underway, the union wants money to be released for the railways.
“ACOD Spoor no longer accepts declarations of intent,” Lejeune said. He asks, in the margin of the new management agreements being negotiated, for a “concrete financial plan” to improve the working conditions of railway employees.
Mobility Minister’s cabinet says there’s a ‘war for talent’
Gilkinet's cabinet met with a delegation from the socialist trade union for an hour, though the minister himself was not present, as he is currently abroad.
The cabinet said it “understood” the concerns of the protestors.
“Because of the age pyramid, many railway workers are retiring and this in a difficult context of the ‘war for talent,’ in which different companies – certainly in Flanders – are looking for the same technical profiles in bottleneck professions,” the cabinet announced in a statement.
They said that “large-scale recruitment campaigns are now underway” at railway company SNCB and network manager Infrabel and that Gilkinet's ambition is “to make rail the backbone of our mobility.”
Consequently, “a great deal of additional resources” have already been set aside for the railways, the cabinet says.