Jean Jaurès train station in Toulouse
Monday, January 17, a commercial service agent on board trains (a job better known as a “controller” at the SNCF) left to take up her service at Toulouse Matabiau station, dressed in her uniform. Three men violently attacked her while she was in the Jean Jaurès metro station, a stone’s throw from her workplace. Two of them kicked him, causing injuries to his chest and neck, while the third filmed the scene. They also stole his belongings, including his cell phone.
Beyond the violence of the facts, reprehensible in all respects, this terrible aggression raises questions on several levels. It is established that the trigger for this surge of violence is the recognizable work clothes worn by the victim, and that this act is an act of revenge following a possible verbalization of one of these three men by the controller, in the weeks preceding the events.
Accumulated recourse to precarious contracts among controllers
It turns out that the victim is hired by the SNCF on a fixed-term contract, while being sworn in the same way as the controllers hired with railway worker status or on a private law CDI (since 2018). This means that she has been reinforced with expeditious training and minimal monitoring, but finds herself at the same risk of aggression as all of her colleagues, by having quantified objectives for operations to be carried out on board the trains (issue of tickets at the on-board fare and verbalization of passengers without a ticket).
This recourse accumulates to temporary workers and to precarious contracts to ensure the control on board the trains, with the sole objective of increasing the receipts realized by the SNCF, only increases the risks for the travelers and the agents. Rather than properly training and hiring agents on board trains over the long term, the railway company prefers to ensure a cheap and poorly trained workforce, not authorized for safety tasks (authorization allowing in particular to assist the train driver in the event of an incident during the trip), while asking these workers trained on the job to expose themselves ever more on board the trains for a few tickets. Many temporary workers only benefit from two days of practical training on board the trains, accompanied by a monitor, before finding themselves alone on the lines they have to control.
Checking tickets should not be the first mission of these agents, whose presence on board trains is much more useful to help the driver in the event of a breakdown or accident, to inform travelers and those accompanied in their movements rather than to play a repressive role and which expose them to possible violence.
To save: cut back on pick-up and end-of-service times
On the other hand, what questions in this assault case is that the controller had to travel in public transport, dressed in her work clothes before going to hire. Although this is strongly discouraged by the company in theory, nothing is done in practice to give agents the possibility of changing at their place of work. In many regions, the direction of the commercial agents of the SNCF pushes to remove the times of “taking of service” and “end of service” deducted from the pay of railway workers, and precisely planned so that they can change on their place of work and travel home in civilian clothes.
In Toulouse, a move of the premises led several interim controllers to have to wait sometimes several weeks before being assigned a changing room, which therefore forced them to arrive at their place of work in uniform. This same move changed the place where the taxis picked up the agents who must go to a station other than Toulouse Matabiau, forcing the drivers but also the controllers in uniform to wait for their taxi on the forecourt of the station, in the middle of all travelers and passers-by, day and night.
It is by no means a question of minimizing the responsibility of the three aggressors and the violence of the aggression suffered by the controller in Toulouse, but this terrible situation could certainly have been interrupted if the policy of the SNCF was not dictated by profitability at all costs; if the agents on board the trains were properly trained in conflict management, if they were not pushed to expose themselves more and more for a few tens of euros, if their primary role once again became that of providing a real public service quality ; and if SNCF personnel were treated with dignity, that is to say hired on the basis of status, with space to store belongings and change at the workplace and a start and end of service time counted in the hours worked systematically.