Britain’s three rail unions – ASLEF, RMT and TSSA – have warned the government that this is not the right time to lift coronavirus restriction measures and run more trains.
In a joint letter to Boris Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Sadiq Khan, the trade union leaders said that it would be “completely unacceptable” to risk the lives of passengers and rail staff.
Mick Whelan and Manuel Cortes of Labour-affiliated unions ASLEF and TSSA, plus the RMT’s Mick Cash, expressed their “deep concerns” over reported plans to increase rail service levels.
Noting that rail service use has “fallen dramatically” since the lockdown began, which “has undoubtedly helped the UK to contain the pandemic”, they pointed out that “there is no agreement” on how to safely expand services.
“We have helped ensure that key workers and goods are able to be moved where they are needed. But we have a duty of care to our members, and to those who rely on our industry,” the letter reads.
“We will not accept new working patterns that put the lives of railway workers and passengers at risk. To be clear – we are not convinced that there is any basis at this time for a safe escalation of services.”
The rail unions have urged the government and train operators to work with them to identify where there is real demand for services and to establish how more services can be delivered safely.
The general secretaries conclude: “Seeking a blanket increase in services as part of a symbolic and premature drive to apparent normality, at the potential risk of countless lives, is completely unacceptable to us.”
The RMT last week said there was “zero chance” of agreeing to an increase in services in mid-May, as Cash vowed not to accept “unsafe directives being handed down on high from the boardroom or the cabinet room”.
Overall passenger numbers are currently at 3% of pre-coronavirus crisis levels, while one in five staff members at train companies are reportedly off work due to the virus.