Right of withdrawal at the SNCF: 5 questions on this work stoppage without notice



CONFLICT – After an accident at TER which left 11 injured in the Ardennes, including the train driver alone on board, railway workers claimed their right of withdrawal, causing many disturbances on the TER network and Ile de France.

False strike but real stoppage of work. This Friday, the TER network and lines in the Paris area were very disturbed because SNCF drivers and controllers claimed their right of withdrawal following a crash in TER in Champagne-Ardennes in which 11 people were injured, including the driver. the only train on board. This right of withdrawal led to a stoppage of work without notice by many railway workers, described by the SNCF as an "irregular strike".

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What happened in the Ardennes?

The stop work without notice of the railroaders follows an accident that occurred Wednesday at 16h15 in Champagne-Ardennes. A TER struck an exceptional road convoy stuck on a railway crossing, causing several injuries including the train driver, according to a spokesman for the SNCF. The prefecture of the Ardennes indicates that there were "eleven wounded", some of whom were hospitalized in Charleville-Mezieres. The party hall in Boulzicourt was opened to accommodate the 70 passengers of the train, before buses and taxis will take them to their destination, says France Bleu.

The driver, slightly injured in the leg and shocked, "had to rescue the passengers because it was the only SNCF agent on board!", Lamented in a SUD-Rail statement. In order to avoid an over-accident, he has in particular implemented a safety device on the tracks.

Why do railway workers exercise their right of withdrawal?

"The right of withdrawal, it is a right of workers to say: 'be careful there is something serious'", defended the general secretary of the CGT Philippe Martinez, questioned on Europe 1. "We avoided a tragedy because there is a conscientious driver, attached to the rail public service, who has worked, but we can not continue like that, "he warned.

Several railway unions – SUD-Rail, CGT-Cheminots, FO-Cheminots and Fgaac-CFDT – are challenging the "agent-only" operating mode, which allows trains to run without a controller. They believe that this operation entails security risks for travelers. "It is also expected that on December 15, the general direction of this type of traffic, it also wants to remove the agents of call, which today give permission to leave trains in the station, and also entrust this responsibility to the driver ", affirmed on France Bleu the general secretary CGT Railwaymen of Metz Jean Riconneau.

How can a withdrawal right be triggered?

The right of withdrawal is an individual right enshrined in Article L4131-1 of the Labor Code. It allows the worker to "withdraw from a situation" in which he has "reasonable grounds to believe that it presents a serious and imminent danger to his life or health". Before exercising this right, the employee must make use of his obligation of warning by warning his supervisor about the danger. The Council of State considers that this obligation of alert must intervene "without delay or as soon as possible", orally or in writing. Finally, the employee remains subject to the subordination of his superior during the exercise of his right of withdrawal.

To be valid, the danger must be "serious" and "imminent". A circular of the General Directorate of Labor of 25 March 1993 defines a "serious" danger as "a danger likely to produce an accident or illness leading to death or which appears likely to lead to a permanent or prolonged temporary disability", indicates Franceinfo.

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The imminence is defined by a circular of the Minister of the Interior of 12 October 2012: "The imminent nature of the danger is characterized by the fact that the danger is likely to be realized brutally in a short time. the danger presupposes that it has not yet been realized but that it is likely to materialize in a short period of time.It should be emphasized that this concept does not exclude the 'delayed-effect risk', for example, a cancerous pathology resulting from exposure to ionizing radiation can occur after a long latency period but the danger of irradiation is very immediate, so the assessment is done on a case-by-case basis. "

Finally, it is up to the judge to rule on the "reasonableness" of the ground leading to the exercise of the right of withdrawal. "The law requires only to have 'reasonable grounds to think' that the work situation presents a serious and imminent danger", explains the lawyer Valerie Duez-Ruff in Le Figaro. "It does not require a real cause of danger, appearance and good faith are enough."

What do the SNCF and the government answer?

If the unions involved in the movement denounce a "serious and imminent danger", the SNCF says the opposite. "The reasons given do not in any way justify an unannounced and irregular stoppage of work.There is no serious and imminent danger in the movement of trains," says the company in a statement, citing a "strike without notice ".

The government is on the same line. "To say that we operate a right of withdrawal that is not one is to penalize the user," said Secretary of State for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, who refers to an "instrumentalization" "the right of withdrawal and a" surprise strike (…) outside the legal framework ". It also states that "three-quarters of TERs are operated on board" and describes this operation, established "for 10 years" as "an approved driving measure" practiced "throughout Europe".

The SNCF gathered the unions Friday morning and said it wants to "respond to concerns about the new departure procedure trains to apply from December 15". The company has announced a series of meetings at local and national level to discuss railroad safety issues and says "to study the legal possibility of postponing the new train departure procedure by a few months". Ads deemed "insufficient" by Sud-Rail.

Can the social movement last?

Friday late afternoon, it was still unknown whether the railway workers would continue their right of withdrawal. If this is the case, it will be up to the judge to decide the debate on the legitimacy of the movement. Labor law provides that employees exercising their right of withdrawal do not have to return to their job as long as the situation of "grave and imminent danger" persists. The movement can theoretically last, and the SNCF may eventually initiate a procedure to the labor courts to punish employees if it considers their exercise of the right of withdrawal unfounded. But if the judge considers the right of withdrawal based, the SNCF could be punished for failing to ensure the safety of its employees.

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