The Christmas strike was avoided but the fire is smoldering at the SNCF. Basic salaries considered too low, recourse to retirees to plug the holes, railway workers who leave to compete… The public company will still have to negotiate and let go of ballast to avoid a powerful social movement during the Olympics.
Resentment is still very present at the SNCF. If unions and employees have given up on striking for the Christmas holidays, the year 2024 should be marked by social tensions as the public company struggles to provide increased service for the Paris Olympic Games.
The next salary increases proposed during the last annual negotiations were ratified by two unions out of four (Unsa and CFDT) and management has decided, as it has the right, to apply this agreement which provides in particular for a general increase in salaries for 1.8% and the 4% revaluation of the numerous bonuses which supplement the remuneration of a railway worker.
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But anger still simmers, one of the main complaints being that these bonuses, certainly numerous (traction, night, Sunday, etc.), are added to a basic salary considered insufficient.
“It is not surprising that the company is experiencing recruitment difficulties”
Translation, some railway workers denounce a fixed salary excluding bonuses over 12 months lower than the minimum wage (1,747 euros gross). And when the SNCF specifies that, from now on, no employee is below the minimum wage increased by 10%, we must understand that this covers the basic salary and bonuses.
Thus, according to our information, a beginner train driver receives a minimum of 24,684 euros gross per year full-time, bonuses included (figure as of January 1, 2023). If more bonuses are obtained, the total salary will be higher. Conversely, if the railway worker does not generate enough bonuses to reach this minimum threshold, the SNCF makes up the difference.
The basic salary (excluding bonuses) is approximately 21,500 gross per year, or 1,791 euros per month. This salary then increases every three years.
So many elements which slow down ambitions, while the SNCF seeks to recruit en masse.
“By offering this basic treatment, it is not surprising that the company is experiencing recruitment difficulties,” murmurs a unionized driver who wishes to remain anonymous.
The end of recruitment “to railway worker status” with the privileges associated with it obviously amplifies this phenomenon among interested candidates.
Unions regularly highlight the higher salaries of European rail operators, even if comparisons are difficult, particularly in terms of working hours, bonuses, etc.
When questioned, Trenitalia refused to communicate on the salaries of its drivers but if we refer to the site Glass door, the average base salary ranges from 25 to 33,000 euros per year.
In Germany, it is much higher, a Deutsche Bahn driver earns between 42,000 and 51,000 euros per year, depending on their experience, bonuses included, or between 3,500 and 4,250 euros gross monthly (2019 figures).
SNCF contests an increase in resignations
However, officially, the SNCF recruitment campaign achieved its objectives. When questioned, the operator affirmed that the trajectory was good.
“We are meeting or even exceeding our ambitious recruitment objectives: we went from 1,600 recruitments in 2021 to 3,200 in 2022 and we reached our annual objective for the year in September 2023, i.e. 3,500 recruitments.
Unofficially, the SNCF would actually have difficulty recruiting and especially retaining its employees since it would face numerous resignations, boosted by the arrival of European players on the French market (like Trenitalia) which, according to the unions, pay better in France than the SNCF.
Jean-Christophe Guary left SNCF after 26 years and joined Trenitalia in 2017 when the group operated the Thello brand from the south of France (he is now retired).
“For a long time, I loved and was proud to work at SNCF but the company changed with deplorable working conditions, deleterious hierarchical pressure and uninteresting career developments,” he explains to us. . .
“At Trenitalia, I found good working conditions, more consideration, a better atmosphere. For example, at SNCF, a driver is a qualified worker, at Trenitalia, you are a supervisor. You receive a higher fixed salary even if the bonuses are lower. , ” he keeps on.
However, it is difficult to quantify these resignations; SNCF’s competitors do not wish to provide information on the number of drivers from the ranks of the public operator. “I have seen quite a few pre-retirees from the SNCF join Trenitalia,” nevertheless specifies Jean-Christophe Guary.
The SNCF contests an increase in resignations and emphasizes that “the level of departures (is) stable since 2021 and resignations only represent around 1% of our workforce each year”.
The company employs 150,000 people, which still represents 1,500 departures per year.
“The Olympics remain very compromised”
Proof of these difficulties, according to our information, management has just announced internally the recruitment of retired railway workers who will receive their old final salary plus a very comfortable monthly bonus.
The consequence of a “lack of staff due to lack of anticipation and candidates for recruitment and we also have to show that things are going well for the Olympics”, estimates the railway worker wishing to remain anonymous.
Here again, the SNCF disputes and specifies that “this happens to us sometimes (we did it for example during social tensions in Île-de-France), it has nothing to do with the Olympics”.
However, management is trying to put out the fire. It has formulated measures not yet communicated publicly to encourage employees to be massively present during the Olympic Games. This would be a new daily attendance bonus. For the moment, the reception is frosty.
This driver claims that management “is content to soften agents’ vacations and requests exemptions from the Labor Code concerning weekly rest periods. If the agents and the unions have decided to spare Christmas, the Olympics remain very compromised, the agents are saving the paid vacation at the CET (savings account time) to finance an extremely difficult movement.
Absences without notice
The unions could also be overwhelmed as during the very massive movement of a collective of train directors, in December 2022, which caused the cancellation of numerous trains.
“Aware that the unions will take their check to ensure that everything goes well, the agents seem ready to take on irregular absences without notice,” adds the driver contacted by BFM Business.
The unions are therefore in a position of strength. At the end of November, the inter-union (CFDT, Unsa, CGT and Sud-Rail) agreed to put pressure on management so that it reopens salary negotiations at the start of 2024. The CGT-Cheminots is thus banking on solidarity pressure. And it’s a safe bet that it will have a strong impact on Philippe Bru, the company’s new HR director.
Olivier Chicheportiche Journalist BFM Business