RMT expresses concern over botched face mask announcement

RMT writes to Grant Shapps warning that requirement for face masks on public transport risks being marred by confusion and conflict.

Transport union RMT has written to the Secretary of State Grant Shapps to warn a lack of consultation and proper discussion in the transport industry means that the requirement for face masks on public transport from 15th June risks being marred by “confusion and conflict.”

RMT has been campaigning for, and supports passengers being required to wear masks but in the letter to Grant Shapps RMT General Secretary Mick Cash says he has received representations from both transport workers and transport employers that the “botched” announcement means there are “high levels of concern and confusion over how these new arrangements will apply and basic issues do not appear to be have been consulted on or resolved.”

The union has called for urgent transport sector wide discussions with government, unions and employers to agree the necessary guidelines and arrangements.

The full text of the letter is as follows;

“Dear Grant,

I am writing to express my extreme concern about what is now looking increasingly like a botched announcement in respect of the wearing of face masks on public transport.

I am receiving representations from not only my members but also employers who are reporting high levels of concern and confusion over how these new arrangements will apply, who will be responsible for enforcement and what will be done to prevent conflict between passengers and staff.

Very basic issues do not appear to be have been consulted on or resolved with either employers or unions across the rail, bus and ferry sectors before you made your announcement on Thursday. This has led to a confusion and lack of clarity which is now becoming increasingly common with government Covid -19 announcements. These include;

• In respect of passenger compliance / enforcement who will be responsible for enforcement and what protections will be in place for staff? Are extra BTP, or security staff being recruited? To be absolutely clear our members on stations, on trains, on buses and ferries are not police and we will not allow them to be used in a role that puts them in danger or conflict.

• It is still not clear which groups are exempt from the new regulations and how staff will be expected to distinguish between genuine cases. For example those passengers who have genuine respiratory problems and those passengers who will just be making it up to avoid wearing a mask?

• How will the wearing of face coverings be monitored for passengers who embark at one of the 90% of the UK’s rail stations which are unstaffed some or all of the time? How will it be monitored when passengers are on the train?

• How will discarded face coverings be disposed of?

• What is the situation and advice for cross - border services bearing in mind mandatory wearing of masks will only be compulsory in England?

• Why is it a legal requirement for all staff to wear masks even when in many instances agreed arrangements are already in place that do not necessitate staff wearing masks? For example if adequate screens are in place on buses does the requirement still apply? Will transport workers now be fined for not wearing masks?

As you know RMT has been campaigning for all passengers to be required to wear face masks and I am sure there are solutions to all of these and the other questions that are being raised, but for that to happen there needs to be urgent transport sector wide discussions with government, unions and employers to agree the necessary guidelines and arrangements.

If this does not happen then the 15th June, when the new measures begin, is in danger of being marred by confusion and conflict across public transport.

Yours sincerely,

Mick Cash
General Secretary”

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