Few drivers, expensive training courses, overcoming two public job offers, receiving little for the first income... It's day to day in rail transport. In fact, the lack of train drivers is one of the demands on which the strike that is taking place in Renfe during the last week is based. And the main problem is in training. In order to apply to be a train driver for Renfe, the first step is for the company itself to admit the student to its Professional Technical School of Driving and Operations (there are between 250 and 300 places per year for 1,800 applications), and the second is for the aspiring driver to gather the 21,200 euros that the preparatory training course costs for obtaining the machinist's license.
The license can also be obtained through private schools for a similar price. The difference between these and the Renfe school itself lies in the practices. While in the railway company, in general, they are carried out on real trains, in most private schools they are usually carried out using simulators.
Being a train driver for Renfe is not easy. Once the degree is obtained, the second phase is to apply for a Public Employment Offer (OPE). And that is where, as the spokesman for the Railway Union (SF), Rafael Escudero, tells us, the 'trap' by Renfe occurs. Unlike other public selection processes in which you usually aspire to a permanent position in the company, here, in most cases, what you really opt for is to become an intern through a training contract.
Escudero tells La Información that “those who do not obtain a place in the Public Offer of Employment, but are approved (up to a number that is determined in each OPE) go to a stock exchange reserve employment. Renfe is granting training scholarships (which last from one to six months and in which 800 euros per month are charged) to those who are in that bag.
Once the training scholarship ends, if the student manages to convince Renfe, “they are given a work and service contract, and this generates points for the next Public Job Offer. In the next OPE, normally, those who obtain a place are those who have already been working at Renfe with these temporary contracts. There are exceptional cases, but most of the people who obtain a permanent position in Renfe do so after having submitted to two Public Job Offers”, says the spokesperson for the Railway Union (SF).
And this is where the problem comes from, according to Rafael Escudero: “This way of proceeding means that Public Job Offers do not bring drivers to relieve those who retire, but only consolidate those who are hired temporary. What we are demanding is that the number of places offered in the OPE be adjusted to the real needs of staff in the different residences. In any case, right now, we are facing a lack not only of drivers, but also of workshop personnel, intervention, ticket offices… Among all the groups, the deficit could be around 2,000 people”.
Deepening into the subject of training scholarships, the SF spokesman details that “it is a way of saving costs by Renfe. The students serve in different residences in the state, and do the same work as the drivers who are permanent, but for 800 euros per month. They are supposed to have a tutor to supervise them when they drive the trains, but, in many cases, the tutor has many trainees under his care and cannot be with all of them. Those who carry out the scholarship have the training that having acquired the license gives them, but they do not have the necessary experience”. Renfe's savings with each training grant is considerable. Rafael Escudero puts the salary received by train drivers at "25,000 or 26,000 euros gross per year" once they become permanent, while with that scholarship, they earn only 800 euros per month.
From Renfe, however, they defend that the delay in the training processes "is due to COVID-19 and to the fact that SEMAF (Spanish Union of Train Drivers and Railway Assistants) refuses to allow, in the train cabin, more than one person goes with the driver, when the regulations allow there to be up to four people. This limitation slows down the training and approval processes and, therefore, the incorporation of train drivers into the rail service”.
Regarding the obligation, for practical purposes, that those who want to achieve a permanent position have to go through two Public Job Offers, the company states that "we are not going to enter into the issue of the second OPE, there is a public offer of employment with some places, and they are all covered. The important thing is that the places that are summoned are covered. This is how we are replenishing and carrying out the generational change. The applicants who apply to the OPE do not do so to obtain the training scholarship but to qualify for the position, there are people who get it and people who do not. We are going to incorporate 916 new train drivers who, taking into account the 454 retirements that will take place, will mean that in the first half of 2022 we will reach the largest number of train drivers (5,720) since the Employment Plan was approved in 2016”.
However, they do detail that “Renfe currently has 507 people in the reserve pool. Through it, we intend to train drivers so that, if they get a place in the next OPE that is called, the deadlines for their incorporation into the normal service of the company are faster”.
In any case, the ghost of the second OPE also haunts the schools where train drivers' licenses are obtained. Carlos, 20, who is studying to be able to drive trains in the near future, mentions that, despite the fact that he has not yet gone through the OPE and, consequently, cannot know for sure, "yes, I have heard Testimonials from many colleagues who are already at Renfe, and also from teachers, in which they say that those who get the position are those who have carried out the training scholarship with the company. It is almost impossible to achieve it in the first OPE, although I do know the case of a friend who, a few years ago, was able to achieve it thanks to the fact that she did very well on the exam and because she had a C1 level of English that gave her many points. But it is not usual".
In short, with few exceptions, aspiring train drivers who apply for Renfe's Public Job Offers, go through a first OPE in which the objective is to pass with a good score so that the company selects them as interns. If they succeed, they will first charge 800 euros a month and, if they convince Renfe, they will become temporarily hired. Subsequently, with the help of the points they have acquired, they return to a second OPE to, yes, try to get their permanent place in the company.