Train staff have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a pay deal that will boost their wages by 9.25% over the next 18 months.
The FNV union said 81% of its members backed the package of measures agreed with national rail operator NS a month ago. Members of the CNV voted 89% in favour, while VVMC will announce its results later on Tuesday.
The result of the ballot means there will be no resumption of the strikes that brought the rail network to a standstill over the summer.
The 16,700 staff working for the train company will receive a 5% pay increase, backdated to July, plus a bonus of €1,000 in December. In January their pay will be raised by another 3.45% and they will get a second €1,000 bonus in July.
‘Hopefully this will attract new people, so that the workload for staff is reduced and more train can run,’ said union official Henri Janssen.
Confirmation of the deal will be welcome news for the incoming head of NS, former social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees, whose appointment was announced in Monday.
Koolmees, who will take over from Marjan Rintel on November 1, faces a tough start at an organisation still feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, when passenger numbers declined steeply, as well as a shortage of personnel.
NS currently has 2,200 unfilled vacancies, mainly for train drivers and conductors. Finance director Bert Groenwegen warned last week that the number of trains will be reduced when the new timetable comes into force in December, despite growing complaints from passengers about overcrowding.
The train operator has also lost revenue since the pandemic as many office workers have switched to working from home part of the week. The return of students to campuses and daytrippers has not compensated for the drop in commuter traffic.
NS made a loss of €225 million in the first half of 2022, though this was partly offset by coronavirus support from the government, as its costs rose faster than its income. ProRail, which runs the rail network, is expected to raise its operating costs by 12% in 2023, which is likely to result in increases of 5% to 6% for train tickets.
But his most immediate challenge will be to deal with the increasing pressure to allow other rail companies to run trains on the already crowded Dutch network.
On November 1, Koolmees’s first official working day, parliament is due to discuss who can use the network from 2025.
Potential competitors have been lobbying hard to challenge NS’s dominant position as the national rail operator and its monopoly on intercity trains. The European Commission has told the government its plans to renew NS’s exclusive contract for another 10 years runs a ‘serious risk’ of breaching EU competition law.
Groenewegen has warned that liberalising the market could lead to the kind of chaos on the rails and high prices seen in other European countries such as the UK.
‘The outside world is nipping at our heels,’ he said in a recent presentation to staff. ‘The doomsday scenario of a large-scale commercial experiment on the rails is becoming increasingly likely.’
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