RAIL staff are increasingly at risk from new variations of coronavirus, but are also victims of a ‘complacent and callous approach’ from employers, according to the RMT. It also claims that rail use is three times higher than it was in the previous lockdown, quoting figures from the Department for Transport.
The union says feedback it has received reveal the number of deaths and illnesses due to coronavirus amongst rail workers have at least doubled since November, and it is calling for railway employees to receive priority in the queue for vaccinations.
It alleges that ‘creeping complacency and a callous refusal by transport bosses to mandate a nationwide overhaul of risk assessments’ to take into account the heightened risk has lead to the surge in cases among staff.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘A more infectious and now it seems more deadly variant of the Covid-19 virus plus an increase in passengers numbers is a lethal cocktail threatening rail workers, with deaths and illness doubling since November.
‘But instead of responding to our call for a urgent national review of all risk assessments we are being told its business as usual – this is as callous as it is complacent.
‘We are advising our members of their right to stop working if their safety is threatened and I will be seeking an urgent meeting with Grant Shapps asking that he intervenes.’
Railnews asked the Department for Transport for a comment.
It responded: ‘The safety of staff across our transport network is paramount, and we are grateful for the tireless efforts of all our key workers at this difficult time. Passengers should only be travelling if it is absolutely essential and we have issued comprehensive guidance on how to address the risks of coronavirus across the sector, with huge efforts made by rail operators to make workplaces Covid secure.
‘We are taking independent expert advice on the prioritisation of the vaccine from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation which has made clear that the immediate priority must be to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, and healthcare staff on the front line.’