Dutch bus drivers strike in search of better labor agreements

Edition 26 January 2018,  by Bárbara Luque

On Thursday January 4, drivers from regional carriers around The Netherlands took a stand against their established low wages and saturated workloads. The strike, which brought transport services to a halt, started at 4 am and lasted until 11 pm. The decision to strike became imminent after attempts for previous consultations with employers did not work out, and the stated ultimatum passed. Thus, on Thursday, buses and a few regional trains from the companies Arriva, Connexion, Qbuzz, Keolis, and EBS, amongst others, were not in service as their drivers took part in talks for better collective labor agreements.

In cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, bus services were not affected because of the different collective labor agreement under which local carriers operate. According to the CNV, one of the largest employee organizations in The Netherlands, drivers must deal with schedules in which they drive four hours in a row without being able to take any breaks, and possibly having to catch up on lost time during their lunch break. “In many buses, every minute of delay or lead is made visible on the dashboard, which gives continuous stress”, said Paula Verhoef, negotiator at FNV (The Netherlands Trade Union Confederation). In addition to the workload pressure, drivers dispute their low salary, the lack of safety for drivers against aggressive travelers, and the ‘shortage’ of drivers due to the deficits that go into hiring staff. Despite this, there are drivers that did not agree with the totality of the strike, “The travelers are the victim of this. If your mother must go to the hospital on Thursday and she is dependent on bus transport, then what? There is always something to complain about. I come from construction, I did not always have time to pee there. I’m not bad now”, expressed a young bus driver. There are others with mixed feelings about the movement, “I am not with a trade union, because I have seen that labor unions do not always help well. The strike costs me money. But I think the strike is justified. There must be time between the rides. So that when you have a delay, you do not immediately start your next trip with a delay’’, said a 55-year-old driver.

However, the CNV was pleased with the stand taken by bus drivers, and expressed its plan to react in case transport companies do not meet their staff needs. “We are already preparing follow-up actions, which will take the form of regional relay actions from January 16, but we hope that employers realize in time that it is serious”, said Sanne van der Meulen, CNV negotiator. Therefore, the CNV together with the FNV, are hands-on preparing a good collective labor agreement for 12,000 employees in public transport. The specific targets of this agreement include: a decent wage, more space in their hurried schedules, proper lunch and bathroom breaks, and more time to ensure a good service to travelers. In response to this, Fred Kagie, chairman of the trade association VWOV (Association of Employers of Public Transport), called these follow-up actions “very premature”. “We were still in the middle of the negotiation talks and have not yet come up with a final bid, nor do we want a driver with a full bladder behind the wheel”, he said.

Hoping that a dialogue with the workers can prevent further actions, he added that “from the employers there is still no final bid on the table, so we sincerely invite the unions to continue discussions and make good agreements on the issues of work pressure, aging, education and the salary section”.