Óscar Puente has taken office as Minister of Transport with the top priority of avoiding a train crash. A last-minute negotiation has stopped, at least for the moment, a strike by the Renfe train drivers that threatened to block railway traffic throughout Spain for at least five days, including the previous one on the Constitution Bridge, in protest against the transfer to the Generalitat of the Rodalies service, the commuter service in Catalonia. The first day of the stoppage was scheduled for this Friday, but a negotiation against the clock was closed on Thursday night with the minister’s commitment that no one who does not want it will have to stay working under the orders of the Generalitat.
“The Ministry of Transport and Sustainable Mobility expresses its firm commitment to maintaining the socio-labor conditions of the workforce and especially, to guaranteeing the integrity of the Renfe and Adif Group, maintaining its workforce,” reads the text of the agreement reached with the representatives of the workers, and to which EL PAÍS has had access. The Government affirms that the clause agreed with the unions does not alter the conditions of the transfer sealed with Esquerra Republicana during the negotiation for the investiture of Pedro Sánchez. “We are not going to commit any type of disloyalty in our relationship with our partners. I called president Aragonès, I explained to him what we were going to do and I received his approval,” Minister Puente said this Friday. The Generalitat points out that “giving security and peace of mind” to Renfe workers is a priority.
The agreement between the Government and Esquerra Republicana to leave the service of Rodalies in the hands of the Generalitat was a condition of the Republicans to give their support to the re-election of Pedro Sánchez. Altering the terms of the transfer represents a dynamite charge for the stability of the legislature, and the new tenant of the Ministry of Transport has approached the negotiation with the railway unions with the care of a tightrope walker. “The first call was to President Aragonès,” Óscar Puente stressed this Friday in RAC1. “A permanent dialogue table will be established between the parties to transmit the vision and railway model demanded by railway workers,” includes the wording of the text agreed with the unions.
Full powers over Rodalies constitute a historic demand of the Government, under the argument that only by managing from proximity can the constant incidents, delays and breakdowns suffered by the network be mitigated. Rodalies has more than 300,000 daily users and is an inexhaustible source of citizen unrest. “The Government takes on the challenge with the aim of putting an end to the constant chaos and giving citizens the service they need and deserve,” highlights the Minister of Territory, Ester Capella.
The transfer entails the creation of a new mixed company, owned by the State and with a majority of the Generalitat, to assume the management of Rodalies. This measure has generated strong opposition within Renfe staff, and the train drivers scheduled five days of stoppage, on November 24 and 30 and December 1, 4 and 5, with an impact on the entire railway network. The group of train drivers has a strong weight within the Renfe workforce. There are about 5,500 professionals providing service for the public company throughout Spain, with an average salary of 60,000 euros per year. In Catalonia, Renfe has 800 train drivers. It is a territory with little vocation to enter training courses and many of the professionals come to Catalonia from other regions.
The main reason for the complaint to encourage the strike is that the change of ownership of the Rodalies service could decimate the number of professionals that make up Renfe’s total workforce and, in addition, leave those workers who are stationed in Catalonia and who can become dependent on the new joint venture. “Belonging to different companies violates the fact that we are all protected by the same collective agreement and the same rights,” justifies the Semaf machinist union.
“What the Ministry agreed with the unions yesterday could have been agreed by the Generalitat,” declared the Minister of Transport. Puente guarantees workers that they will have free mobility and that they will not see any labor rights curtailed. Government sources confirm that, when the time comes, Renfe employees will be able to decide whether to stay in the mixed company, managed by the Generalitat and the State, or if they prefer to depend exclusively on Renfe. The same sources rule out that there may be a lack of drivers in the Rodalies of Catalonia if, as the professionals point out in their claims, there is a majority preference to maintain the employment relationship exclusively with Renfe. “We are going to have more than enough drivers,” the Government affirms.
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