Train strikes: These are the countries that pay train drivers the most and the least in Europe | Popgen Tech
Tens of thousands of rail workers in the UK went on strike discontinue last week asked for increased pay and better working conditions. This has created chaos for people planning to travel before Christmas. Train strikes will continue until January 2023.
In Europe, the UK is not the only country in which rail workers have gone on strike in 2022. Industrial action has recently taken place in EU countries such as France, Austria, the Netherlands and Italy, and they are expected to continue.
In the EU, the annual inflation rate was 11.5 percent in October 2022, reaching levels not previously seen since the early 1980s. Industrial action has sparked discussions about the wages of rail workers, including train drivers. So which countries pay train drivers the most and the least in Europe? And how have rail workers’ salaries changed in the UK?
Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, provides insight. Based on estimates collected by the EU Structure of Earnings Survey (SES), it provides an overview of the railway sector wages use data from 2021.
Since the Eurostat dataset does not include the UK, Euronews Travel took data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) for comparison. Therefore, there may be methodological differences between the data for EU Member States and the UK. The calculations of salaries are explained in more detail below.
In 2021, the estimated average gross monthly earnings of train drivers ranged from €632 in Bulgaria up to €5,542 in the UK. Among the EU member states, Denmark (€4,463) was the only country where train drivers earned more than €4,000. They were paid more than €3,000 in Ireland, Luxembourg, Germany and France. These countries were closely followed by the Netherlands (€2,947) and Finland (€2,939).
In 16 EU member states, train drivers received an average gross monthly earnings of less than €2,000 in 2021. To Bulgaria, Romania (€901) and Hungary (€922) had the lowest salaries.
How do train drivers’ salaries compare when adjusted for cost of living?
Variations in the earnings of train drivers are significantly smaller when adjusted cost of living.
Purchasing Power Standard (PPS) is ‘an artificial currency’ defined by Eurostat based on price level differences between countries. One unit of PPS can theoretically buy the same amount of goods and services in each country.
The average gross monthly earnings of train drivers as adjusted for PPS ranged from €1,206 in Bulgaria to €4,392 in the UK in 2021. They were above €2,500 in Denmark, Germany and France.
A closer look at train driver wages in the UK
Since the ONS provides a more detailed data set, it is possible to take a closer look at the earnings from not only train drivers but also other rail workers in the UK. The data also reveals how rail workers’ salaries have changed over the past decade.
In 2021, the median gross annual pay of train and tram drivers was £59,031 (€68,673) in the UK, up from £42,484 (€48,951) in 2011. This is a 39 per cent increase in nominal terms, meaning inflation is not taken into account.
Between 2011 and 2021, the median gross annual salary of rail transport operators increased from £34,816 (€40,116) to £47,993 (€55,832) – a rise of 38 per cent.
The change in median gross annual salary between 2011 and 2021 was significantly smaller for rail travel assistants and rail construction and maintenance operators compared to drivers. The pay of rail travel assistants rose from £29,914 (€34,468) to £33,203 (€38,626). In other words, it only increased nominally by 11 percent.
Similarly, the pay of rail construction and maintenance operators rose by only 14 percent. In 2021, their average salary was £34,953 (€40,622).
How do train driver wages compare to nurses wages in the UK?
On 11 July 2022, Grant Shapps, then serving as Secretary of State for Transport, tweeted: “Labour-linked unions have announced train driver strikes. On a salary of almost £60,000, it is not fair for train drivers to hurt those on lower wages with more outings.
Speaking in Parliament on June 15 this year, Shapps said: “The median salary for a train driver is £59,000, compared to £31,000 for a train driver. nurse and £21,000 for a carer.”
In 2021, the median gross annual remuneration for specialist nurses was £33,946 (€39,490) and that of nurses was £36,818 (€42,832) according to the ONS. While the United Kingdom was not in the top five for nurses’ salaries in Europe, the United Kingdom train drivers are paid significantly more than drivers in the EU member states.
Gender pay gaps among train drivers
The numbers show it too gender pay gaps exist among train drivers. Men earn more than women in most countries. In 2021, the estimated average gross hourly earnings of female train drivers were higher than those of male drivers only in the UK and Luxembourg. They were even in Belgium, Ireland, Cyprus and Lithuania. In all other countries considered here, male train drivers are paid more than female drivers.
How are these train driver salaries calculated and who does it include?
The figures provided by Eurostat represent the earnings of ‘locomotive car drivers’. These people drive, or help drive, locomotive engines to transport passengers and freight. This includes drivers of trains, locomotives, the undergroundand engines or mines.
The estimated average gross monthly earnings reported by Eurostat are based on 40 hours of full-time work per week with an indefinite contract duration for male employees aged 35 with lower-level tertiary education (bachelor’s degree or higher vocational education).
The UK data reflects average pay compared to EU member states for ‘train and tram drivers’ as defined by the ONS.
Why are rail workers on strike in the UK?
UK rail workers have stressed that the strikes are not just over pay.
Train drivers are striking in solidarity with other rail workers whose pay has been frozen for the past three years. Pay offers have so far not kept pace with inflation.
They are also protesting various changes proposed by Network Rail, including cutting maintenance, introducing driver-only services, closing booking offices and enforcing unsociable working hours.