Many trains halt on Friday as locomotive drivers go on strike

Many local and long-distance trains are halted on Friday by an engineers' strike.

According to the Helsinki and Riihimäki train drivers, the walkout is a protest against VR's personnel policy. Image: Jorge Gonzalez / Yle

On Friday, May 21, state railway company VR's locomotive drivers based in Helsinki, Riihimäki and Oulu are off the job for 24 hours, from midnight to midnight.

After the strike was announced on Thursday evening, VR told Yle that it could not yet say what impact the protest would have on Friday's train traffic. VR's communications department said that the company was looking into situation.

HSL: No replacement transport, trains back to normal by 5am Saturday

Helsinki Regional Transport (HSL) said that local train services would come to a halt on Friday due to the industrial action. It said it would not organise alternate transport to replace the halted trains, but would try to add some extra bus departures.

Due to the risk that buses may quickly become crowded in the situation, HSL requests that any non-essential trips by public transport be avoided.

"In this way, we can ensure the safest and smoothest possible journey for those who need to be able to travel. We want public transport to remain safe even in an emergency," the agency said in a statement (only in Finnish (siirryt toiseen palveluun)).

The mass transit authority predicted that service would return to normal around 5am Saturday.

Topi Lajunen, vice-president of the Helsinki Union of Railways Drivers' Association, told the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that the walkout would bring local traffic to a complete standstill, along with a significant proportion of long-distance traffic.

Drivers allege breach of contract

According to the Helsinki and Riihimäki train drivers' press release, the walkout is a protest against VR's personnel policy. They claim that VR has breached the existing collective agreement by forcing drivers to handle work tasks in their free time and implementing the division of work in a discriminatory manner.

In a statement, locomotive drivers express concerns about train safety, alleging that inadequate working hours, errors in shift planning and neglected agreements endanger train safety. According to the engineers, attempts have been made to negotiate the matter, but without success.

"The employer obliges us to take care of our work equipment in our free time. This blurs the line between work and leisure. The boundary should be clear," Lassi Narinen, president of the Helsinki train drivers' union, told Yle. He said this may take up to half an hour a day.

Narinen added that locomotive drivers are exhausted and that sick leave has increased significantly.

"There is a fear that drivers on shiftwork are not be able to recover properly. The concern is that in the worst case, this could lead to an accident," he said.

Helsinki and Riihimäki train drivers last went on strike in mid-March. As a result, nearly all local HSL and commuter VR trains were cancelled.