NS cuts almost 1,500 jobs
11 December 2003
AMSTERDAM — Financially struggling Dutch rail company NS will cut about 1,000 train jobs during the next four years as it battles to turn a profit. But the rail operator has ruled out forced redundancies.
Instead, the NS said about 1,000 engineers and conductors will not be replaced as they leave the company, but admitted the final number of job losses might be higher or lower than that figure. A company spokesman said the rail operator will assess the job cuts each year.
There are almost 7,000 NS staff presently working on trains, but the rail operator believes it can get by with less by using staff more efficiently, reducing sick leave, using less time to train workers and installing automated ticketing, such as entrance gates to station platforms.
The economising is a result of earlier announced plans from the NS and the job losses come on top of 200 recent redundancies. It is the first time that job cuts will take place among conductors and engineers and they come despite a job security guarantee given to train staff until 2010, newspaper De Volkskrant reported.
Current affairs program Nova reported the anticipated job losses on Wednesday night and the NS later confirmed the economising plan. The NS is also planning to cut almost 500 office jobs, while savings will also be made in the maintenance of equipment and possibly by the amalgamation of staff departments.
Trade union FNV Bondgenoten reacted with shock to the job losses and cast doubt on whether the NS plan will allow it to continue offering a decent rail service. The union also raised concerns about increasing problems with aggression on trains and platforms, NOS reported.
“It is very bad for the quality, public safety and also bad for the social relationships within the company. This will lead to shock among personnel,” the union said.
The NS will continue making a loss on passenger travel — its most important component — in the coming few years, but NS chief Ad Veenman hopes that passenger travel will start earning a profit in about three years time.
Over the first six months of 2003, NS passenger numbers continued to fall as it reported a loss of EUR 20 million, coming on top of a EUR 69 million loss in 2002. To improve its financial position, the NS has announced plans to increase the cost of train tickets by 4 percent next year.
But this can result in more passengers opting to travel by car — negatively impacting on NS income — and Veenman also said the rail operator will only keep 0.25 percent of the extra income. He said higher ticket prices will not be enough to earn a profit.
This is due to the rising cost the infrastructure tax the rail operator pays to the government for the use of the railway network. The government demanded the NS pay more than expected this year and plans to raise the tax in coming years, demanding it pay EUR 73 million in 2004 and EUR 91 million in 2005.
Veenman said if the tax continues to rise it will represent a heavy cost for the NS and might make the price of a train ticket unaffordable. He warned last month of a possible 25 percent price rise to fund management and maintenance of the railway network if the infrastructure tax rises to EUR 200 million.
According to the contract the NS has signed with the government, the rail operator is allowed to pass the higher costs onto passengers.
Meanwhile, the NS chief hopes the new ov-chip card — which will be used from 2007 as proof of a ticket purchase — will make it possible to charge varying prices. On routes where the NS incurs higher costs, commuters might be forced to pay more for their tickets, newspaper De Telegraaf reported.
The NS must engage in further discussions with the government about the chip card, but has already invested EUR 850 million into the new scheme.
[Copyright Expatica News 2003]
Subject: Dutch news