The rail union, RMT has revealed that the Government may bring forward the start of the mass transport mobilisation and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. RMT is aware that the Government has requested the industry to be ready to begin a last minute mobilisation to accommodate an increase in passenger numbers from Monday 11th May – in reaction to the Prime Ministers expected briefing to the nation on Sunday.
The move is said to overrule a planning document sent to the unions by the Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum, a rail industry and trade union body established to put in place arrangements to protect passengers and workers, which said the industry had only put in place services and arrangements to protect passengers and workers from a “not high” increase in passenger numbers at a later date.
RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash said:
“We have it on good authority that the rail network has been put on notice to begin a last minute mobilisation to accommodate an increase in passenger numbers from Monday. This is earlier than expected and completely contradicts assurances sent to us that the rail industry had only put in place services and arrangements to protect passengers and workers from a “not high” increase in passenger numbers at a later date.
“To overrule the rail industry like this is a complete breach in faith of the trade union and rail industry discussions. It is also a high risk strategy and RMT is deeply concerned that rushed political considerations could well override the safety issues for staff and passengers alike.
RMT will not compromise on the health, safety and livelihoods of our members and we will not agree to anything that fails to put the safety of staff and passengers first. If that means advising our members not to work under conditions that are unsafe and in breach of the government’s and industry’s own guidelines then that is exactly what we will do.”
On Mayday, 1st May, ASLEF, RMT and TSSA trade unions announced they had written a joint letter to the Prime Minister saying that they would only support re-opening of the rail network if safety comes first for both staff and passengers.
In the Agreement, social distancing underpins any increase in services. To enable such a “ramping up” of rail services, activities include:
- the management of passenger flows in stations
- train maintenance
- ticket sales
- revenue protection activities
Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary, said: “What has become clear to our union is that some employers have failed to take their health and safety obligations and responsibilities seriously. Consequently, our members have been exposed to additional risk, some have contracted the disease, and sadly some have died as a result. We do not and will not tolerate employers playing fast and loose with our members’ lives, and we have taken action including the involvement of appropriate authorities, a theme repeated in this document.
“This is a landmark agreement. We believe that if employers observe the provisions of the Social Distancing Principles Agreement, the risks to our members will be minimised. It simply must be followed in every workplace.”
Unite the union represents over 7,800 members in the rail sector who primarily work in maintenance, control rooms, cleaning and catering roles and without whom the service would not be able to run.
Unite is concerned that rail employers work with it to ensure that worker and passenger safety are paramount.
Unite national officer for rail, Harish Patel said:
“It is essential that employers work step by step with Unite to increase capacity, to restore passenger confidence and keep the travelling public and the workforce safe.
“This must be based on full risk assessments being undertaken and their findings then being properly applied.
“If employers do not follow a safety first approach and workers believe their health is in imminent danger, we will fully support them in their decision to stop work including when this means members removing themselves to a place where the threat to their safety no longer exists.”
The railway industry currently states that in line with government advice, “you should only be travelling if you are a key worker or it is essential for you to do so.”
Furthermore, if you do need to travel you should “always practise social distancing.”
As the song goes, there maybe trouble ahead.