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Swiss unions report serious rise in abuse of SBB staff

Swiss unions report serious rise in abuse of SBB staff

The SEV workers’ union has sounded the alarm over the worrying rise in the number of anti-social and aggressive incidents on public transport in Switzerland. They noted that staff on Swiss rail, bus and tram services have faced an unprecedented increase in violence and aggressive behaviour in recent years.

Physical aggression against Swiss train staff on the rise

In a statement, the SEV noted that “physical aggression against locomotive and train staff as well as insults are now a daily burden” for transport staff in Switzerland. They noted that the number of incidents involving verbal and physical violence against employees has “noticeably increased” since the COVID pandemic. 

Central president for the train drivers part of the SEV, Hanny Weissmüller, recalled a case on an early morning train from Sion to Geneva on April 21, 2024. During the incident, a group of drunk young people were deposited on the train by the local police at Martingy. “The young people began to riot on the train…There were stabbings among the young people. We were completely powerless and called the transport police,” she noted. 

Drunken fighting on Swiss trains "tip of the iceberg", says unions

Weissmüller, the driver, was only accompanied by one conductor on the train, who managed to escort all other passengers to other carriages. The youths were only taken off the train by the emergency services in Lausanne.

Train personnel union president Ralph Kessler added that “such incidents are unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg. In recent years we have received more and more reports of violence and threats against staff on trains.” Verbal abuse, destruction of train carriages and drunken altercations have all become more common in Swiss rail services.

SBB faced with a shortage of security staff

The SEV noted that much of the problem can be blamed on a lack of staff on the trains, noting that “in the case of the transport police, 220 police officers are clearly not enough to cover the daily presence and intervention services throughout Switzerland.” In all, they demanded that staff numbers be increased on all major services between Swiss cities, night and early morning trains, and that there always be two conductors on trains during the night.

The rise in anti-social behaviour targeted at rail workers is a Europe-wide phenomenon, with staff on public transport in the Netherlands halting trains on April 20 in protest. In May, the EVG German transport union threatened strike action at Deutsche Bahn during the European Football Championships if nothing is done to curb attacks on employees.

Every action of aggression is one too many, says SBB

In response, Swiss Federal Railways wrote in a statement that “we have observed that physical assaults and individual incidents against staff or customers have become more serious. Such social developments also worry us and we agree with the unions that every act of aggression is one too many."

They confirmed that they would be investing more money into security personnel and that workers would be given “in-depth training in de-escalation.” They promised that on trains after 10pm and on services where extra security is deemed necessary, they will always try to have two conductors on board, except during “short-term staff shortages.”

Thumb image credit: Michael Derrer Fuchs / Shutterstock.com

Jan de Boer

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Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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