Coronavirus: Transport workers advised not to go to work if they feel it's unsafe

10 May 2020, 17:40

Transport workers are being told they don't have to go back to work by union bosses
Transport workers are being told they don't have to go back to work by union bosses. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Rail and Tube staff are being told by union leaders not to work if they believe conditions are unsafe after the coronavirus lockdown rules change later.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) issued fresh guidance to its members on Sunday, ahead of a speech by the Prime Minister expected to include information affecting industry.

The RMT said "spin" ahead of the address showed "confused and contradictory" messaging over the Covid-19 lockdown.

Rail services are set to be increased from May 18, but the RMT said that has been brought forward to Monday.

In a circular to members issued after a meeting of the union's executive (NEC) on Sunday, the union said: "Your NEC today considered this matter and stated our total opposition to attempts by the rail industry and Government to impose changes in working practices from Monday May 11.

"We had only previously agreed to take part in a process to discuss such changes which had been intended to commence and be implemented from Monday May 18.

"Given the confusion and mixed messaging generated by the Government in recent days, RMT has no confidence in the ability of the Government to manage lockdown or its easing.

"To be clear, no agreement has been made to change any working practices or social distancing arrangements from tomorrow.

"Therefore if two-metre social distancing cannot be maintained we consider it to be unsafe and members have the legal right to use the worksafe process.

"RMT will fully back any member who uses this process to ensure their safety."

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "This trade union will not sit back while confused and conflicting messaging from the Government raises the prospect of a surge in passengers on our transport services, making a mockery of the social distancing rules with potentially lethal consequences.

"We are reissuing and reinforcing advice to our members not to work in conditions where their health and safety is clearly compromised. No employer should be sending their staff out to work in those kind of conditions and we are putting the industry on the clearest possible notice.

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"We've seen the spin in advance of the Prime Minister's speech tonight. We are taking clear and decisive action now to protect our members tomorrow."

Under an agreement between the rail unions and train operators, services were set to be gradually increased, although capacity would remain well below the normal rate.

It is believed that planned capacity on trains would be reduced to an average of 20% even when services were increased, although depending on configuration, this could be as low as 15% or as high as 30%.

There would be an incremental increase in usage as the Government relaxes the lockdown, according to an agreed document.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: "The railway has played a vital role supporting the country throughout the lockdown and we are working with Government on different scenarios to ensure that it continues to do so but we do not comment on leaked documents."