‘We remain friendly’, says the FNV executive. But the pressure to end the strike is growing

Swearing, the older man walks across the ice-cold station square in Alkmaar. Rain, wet snow, 2 degrees above zero. The man has to go to the hospital, he shouts, but his bus is not running. Regional transport throughout the Netherlands will strike again on Friday; there are also far fewer buses than normal in Alkmaar. The 163 to Uitgeest, via the Northwest Hospital Group, is also out.

The man curses at the dozens of striking drivers who have gathered at the bus station. The strikers have come walking from the depot, fifteen minutes away, and are going to campaign at the station.

Then one of the strikers can no longer bear it. He walks up to the man, puts an arm over his shoulder and takes him along. The striking driver then takes the man to the hospital with his own car. “He should have known that the buses would strike today,” grumbles another driver.

We have to yell all the time

Connexxion driver at Alkmaar station

No strike on Election Day

Regional transport will strike again on Friday for a better collective labor agreement. Actions are also planned for next week. Tuesday is onenational day of action, but Wednesday’s strike has been cancelled. The unions take the provincial council elections into account.

Read also: Regional transport drivers strike for higher wages and fewer ‘demolition schedules’

FNV and CNV requirements more wages for the approximately 13,000 employees covered by the regional transport collective labor agreement and the 1,300 people who work for combined train/bus companies, where they fall under the multimodal collective labor agreement. In addition to more salary, they mainly demand more measures against the staff shortage in public transport, absenteeism and high work pressure.

“We have to rush all the time,” says a bus driver at the station in Alkmaar. The former truck driver has been working for Connexxion/Transdev for five years now, which runs the buses in Noord-Holland-Noord. “It is planned down to the minute when we have to do something. You hardly have time to pee, drink a cup of coffee, or have a late shift for dinner.”

The striking drivers in Alkmaar – all members of the FNV, CNV has no or hardly any members here – came up with a remarkable action on Friday. After the walk from the depot to the station, the strikers board a bus that is running.

Dozens of strikers come to get an exasperated story from a ‘strike-breaking’ colleague who does drive? “The action is certainly not intended to be intimidating,” says driver Veronika Theunissen of FNV Streektransport. “We just want to keep the pressure on the employers. We’re on strike since May 2022.”

Fred Redlich, a member of the trade union FNV, has previously called on his colleagues in Alkmaar to behave properly. “We just buy a ticket, we remain friendly,” he says. “And we are not going to demolish buses.” Laughter from the strikers.

Nevertheless, the drivers who do work this Friday morning are less relaxed behind the wheel than usual once the strikers board. “I think I have to drive, because I have agreed with my employer,” says a driver who does not want his name in the newspaper. “A deal is a deal.”

For more comments, the driver refers to Connexxion’s communications department. The managers who speak to travelers at the Alkmaar station also do not want to talk to the press. “I cannot understand the strikers,” one of the managers wants to say. “The employers have made a good offer.” He also praises the senior scheme proposed by the employers for the relatively large number of older bus drivers.

‘More than half driving’

It is unclear how many strikes are going on in the Netherlands. The employers state that more than half of the buses in the country are running normally. There are, however, major differences between regions. However, the strikers say that the transport companies make things look better than they are. “During the day there is driving in some places,” says a striker in Alkmaar. “But in the evening everything is flat.”

I can’t understand the strikers. The employers have made a fair offer

A Connexxion manager

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Passengers on the bus react with resignation to the action. “I am already delayed anyway,” says a traveler to the strikers. Passengers receive leaflets explaining why staff in regional transport are on strike.

Travelers association Rover reported this week that the patience of travelers so slowly running out. “Travellers have less and less understanding for the strikes in public transport,” said Rover on Tuesday. The organization calls on carriers and trade unions to find a solution to the deadlocked collective labor agreement negotiations.

Earlier, State Secretary Vivianne Heijnen (Infrastructure and Water Management, CDA) already did the same call. However, she believes that collective bargaining is a matter between employers and employees and does not (yet) want to intervene, even though many citizens are affected by the faltering public transport.

The provinces, clients of the regional transport companies, have also kept aloof from the collective bargaining conflict for a long time, but they now seem to be taking action. For example, Friesland Arriva, which provides regional bus transport in the province, would like to cut the compensation paid by the province. Regional transport is partly paid for by the provinces (or regional transport authorities) and partly from ticket sales.

On Friday morning, Rover reports that the travelers association would like to mediate between the parties. Employers said earlier this week that they will talk again – “start with a clean slate” – if only the strikes are ended. The unions only want to negotiate again if there are new proposals that also pay attention to work pressure and other working conditions.

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