Anger as Dutch cleaners’ strike leads to filthy trains

02 May 2014, by
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A dispute over wages and conditions between an employee organisation and a trade union have led to a cleaners’ strike on Dutch trains, which are now overflowing with rubbish.

Complaints on microblogging site Twitter have also been overflowing, with travellers posting pictures of rubbish falling out of bins and collecting underneath seats.

NS has apologised for the conditions, but declares itself helpless in the situation, as they are not a party in the negotiations. Nor is NS the only organisation that has been affected: cleaners have also walked off at Schiphol and the Tax Office (Belastingdienst).

Striking cleaners’ demands

Cleaners have been taking action on a new collective agreement for months and currently there are between 1.500 and 2.000 cleaners on strike. Their demands include fifty cents an hour extra pay and the first two days of illness be paid.

According to cleaning employee organisation OSB, which is negotiating with the striking trade union, these requirement are above average. "It’s not an increase of 50 cents," said OSB president Hans Simons. "If you add up travel and vacation that makes a 10 per cent increase. That is quite absurd."

Strike leader for trade union FNV Ron Meyer described that as nonsense. "How can we distort something such as we require 50 cents more?"

Cleaners currently earn 9,37 euros an hour, which, according to FNV, leaves 69 per cent of them in poverty (only one third of cleaners work full-time).

The remuneration is 120 per cent more than minimum wage, which Simons argues is sufficient, whereas Meyer says that it is not enough to maintain a family.

NS proposals for rubbish

While some members of the public understand that the mess is caused by striking cleaners, many are still blaming NS.

Train travel Netherlands

"We are looking at it seriously," said a spokesman for NS. "We are getting a lot of complaints, both on the trains and online. It’s our most discussed topic on Twitter."

NS is considering having its own staff clean trains to try and reduce the inconvenience to travellers and limit unsafe situations. It is also considering putting rubbish bags in the pocket of the seat in front, as in airplanes.

"People can take their waste away themselves. We will see if that works," said the spokesman. According to the trade union, NS cannot use agency staff to clean the trains. Not all staff on strike, however, which means that some trains are being cleaned.

Ending the strike

NS and travellers’ organisation Rover have both called on the two groups to come to an agreement to end the strike, which started on April 25. NS suggested finding a mediator, but OSB dismissed that solution, saying they are ready to reach a compromise agreement. The union, on the other hand, approved of the suggestion.

As to how long the strike could last, Meyer would not say, merely noting that cleaners were determined strikers. They were out for 106 days in 2012, and in 2010 it took nine weeks before the two parties came to a new collective agreement.

Sources: Volkskrant, Trouw

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Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in A...

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