Unionist rubbishes ÖBB’s workforce concept

Federal Railways (ÖBB) works council chief Roman Hebenstreit has called on company bosses to show more honesty regarding the firm’s workforce level and staff salaries.

Hebenstreit said on Saturday ÖBB continued cooperating with external enterprises about various services such as security at railroad construction sites while planning to lower the number of ÖBB staff by around 800 by next year. Speaking to the Kurier, Hebenstreit accused the ÖBB board of trying to keep the firm’s personnel costs low to satisfy political decision-makers.

The unionist claimed that costs for agency workers were not registered as personnel costs but material expenses. “We are lying to ourselves every day,” he said speaking about the ÖBB’s expenses policies. ÖBB CEO Christian Kern vehemently dismissed the accusations. He said the costs ÖBB spent on contract employees “are only a fraction” of the debt-stricken company’s overall costs. Kern added that costs of this concern were decreasing.

Hebenstreit rejected politicians’ claims that ÖBB employed a considerable number of expendable employees. Asked where cuts could be made and efficiency raised, the works council leader suggested to form one major Austrian rail authority of the currently existing 132 offices and departments. He said the system Germany had could be seen as a positive example in this concern.

ÖBB sustained a loss of 28 million Euros last year after being challenged by a record loss of 330 million Euros the year before. Kern said last week he wanted to get the state-funded company in the black by 2013. The company has 42,700 employees. This number includes hundreds of trainees.

Only last Thursday, ÖBB presented details about its planned partnership with DO&CO. The Vienna-based catering expert will provide on-board food services for ÖBB from April. Warm meals prepared by DO&CO will be on offer on most Railjet trains and long-distance trains. ÖBB claimed DO&CO’s offerings would be of significantly higher quality than the cold snacks bakery chain was providing for its key rival, private railroad enterprise Westbahn.

Westbahn started operating between Vienna and Salzburg last month. The popular connection is the only passenger railway service ÖBB is making a profit with. Hans Peter Haselsteiner, who heads construction top dog Strabag, founded Westbahn. The firm’s chief is former ÖBB manager Stefan Wehinger.

DO&CO boss Attila Dogudan said he hoped to win 46 million customers among ÖBB’s passengers a year. The businessman added he was optimistic about turning the service for ÖBB into a profitable asset of his company in its second year. DO&CO is best known for airline catering services. The gastronomy industry firm, which is quoted on the Vienna Stock Exchange (WBAG) and the Istanbul Stock Exchange (ISE), is also running a popular restaurant and hotel. Both are situated in the heart of Vienna.

ÖBB controversially decided to pay DO&CO for managing its catering. ÖBB managers explained that it was difficult to get a firm to run the service due to strongly varying passenger figures and other aspects which made it difficult to earn money with such operations. Kern underlined that DO&CO would receive lower sums than ÖBB’s previous catering partner. ÖBB stopped cooperating with the company after rumour had it that passengers were served sausages past their expiry date.