‘THE GOVERNMENT is trying to say: “You take the risk to the staff, and you take the risk to the passengers, it is on your heads”,’ Mick Lynch, assistant general secretary of the RMT union said yesterday, underlining that train and tube drivers will refuse to work if the Tories attempt to open the transport system to the general public too soon.
‘If the government doesn’t shape up and get us some proper dialogue and a proper system of work for the mass transport system, including the buses and ferries, we will have to advise our members that they are better off not working, and it will be better for the passengers and the communities if we continue on these restrictive services.’
His comments came as the three rail unions – ASLEF, RMT and TSSA – wrote to Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning: ‘This is not the time to lift the lockdown and run more trains.’
A document proposing measures put by the Johnson government to get capitalism moving was seen by the trade unions for the first time on Sunday, and they were only given until Sunday night to respond.
Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Francis O’Grady said: ‘Everybody wants to see a safe return to work so we can get our economy moving again, but it has to be safe, and we need robust direction from the government. And robust enforcement too.
‘I am afraid that the documents that we saw for the first time on Sunday fall far short of giving any guarantees to workers about their health and safety and the problem is, that does not just go for workers and their families, but risks a second wave of infection too.’
Asked by Sky News if RMT would potentially ballot for strike action over the issue Lynch replied: ‘There may not be time to ballot for strike action because the way that the laws work, we can’t react that quickly and we may not be able to run a ballot anyway during the restrictions.
‘What we will say is that if we think that it is not safe and there is an unreasonable increase in risk we should advise our members that they have the right under law, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, to remove themselves from serious risk of danger.
‘You cannot have everybody piling onto the trains at the same time and therefore spreading the risk of the virus.’
The joint ASLEF, RMT and TSSA letter addressed to PM Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland; Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales; and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London; 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.
‘We therefore call on the government and train operators to work with us in establishing where there is a real demand to increase services and, where that demand exists, how it can be delivered safely. There will have to be an industry-wide agreement with the unions that any increase in services does not increase danger and the risk of virus transmission for our members, for passengers, or for our communities.
‘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.
‘We look forward to your response to these important matters.
‘Mick Whelan, ASLEF; Mick Cash, RMT; Manuel Cortes, TSSA.’
The TUC and all the trade unions must support the rail unions in this vital dispute since, literally, the lives of railworkers, passengers and other workers will be under threat.
The TUC cannot allow railworkers and others to work in deadly conditions which can harm them and their families and spread the coronavirus.
On this basic class issue of the safety of working people facing a deadly virus, the TUC must recall its congress and call a general strike to defend the health and safety of all working people by removing the government and bringing in a workers’ government.