A licence to create a more flexible labour market

01 October 2016

Assistant General Secretary SIMON WELLER looks at the future of the European train drivers’ licence directive.

eurolicence(As featured in the ASLEF Journal, September 2016, pp11)

There has been much discussion on the implementation – or not – of the revised European train drivers’ licence directive.To be frank, it is difficult to say as it all depends on the terms of Brexit.If we were to go down the Norwegian model or the Swiss model it would still apply and, even if we didn’t, it could take two years to achieve exit so the directive would be implemented in that time anyway. Whatever form Brexit takes it will have the European single market at its core and the quid pro quo for that will be the free movement of capital and labour. Even by the EU’s own admission, the EU licence was designed to ‘create a more flexible labour market for the [train] drivers themselves’; in other words, to create competition for jobs, and to drive down costs. My instinct is that the government will not be dropping that, no matter all their rhetoric about ‘taking back our country’.

What does the revised licence mean in practice?

Firstly, it belongs to the driver,not the company. The licence is issued by the national safety authority – in our case the RSSB – and while it may be done via your company for ease of administration it is not for the company to decline or revoke a licence. Therefore, those driver managers scuttling around some depots gleefully telling drivers they will not be getting one are in for a nasty shock when they find out it is not in their gift to do that.

The licence confirms that a driver meets minimum requirements for medical and psychological fitness, basic education and general professional skills. The employer issues the accompanying certificate and it details the specific competencies of the driver (routes,traction, etc). If a driver transfers between companies, the employer has to provide a copy to allow the driver to demonstrate previous competencies to any future employer.

Medical standards have changed and examinations have increased in frequency. In fact, the medical standards have been relaxed slightly, mostly in regard with eyesight, but there is a slightly stricter requirement to have binocular vision, ie sight in both eyes. The frequency increase from five to three yearly is supported by the trade unions involved in the consultation exercise (including ASLEF) conducted by the European Railway Agency. It is important that medicals are utilised as a way to catch potential problems early. There is also a duty on us to ensure everyone entrusted with operating on the railway is fully fit.

When the TDLD comes into force from 29 October 2018 restricted drivers who do not work on the open network(say, only on a depot) should see no change as they do not come under the TDLD.The ORR has agreed that, in certain circumstances, medically restricted drivers will not need to hold these train driver licences when carrying out limited operations on the main line railway but we are still waiting final confirmation from them.


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