Union slams Shapps over facemask 'confusion'


The RMT has written to transport secretary Grant Shapps to warn that the introduction of compulsory face masks on public transport from next week risks being marred by ‘confusion and conflict’.

The transport union said it has been campaigning for and supports passengers being required to wear masks but complained of a ‘lack of consultation and proper discussion in the transport industry’

London Liverpool Street May 2020

In the letter to Mr Shapps, RMT general secretary Mick Cash says he has received representations from both transport workers and transport employers that a ‘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 issues raised in the letter are:

  • In respect of passenger compliance / enforcement who will be responsible for enforcement and what protections will be in place for staff? Are extra [British Transport Police], 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?

The Department for Transport declined to comment on Mr Cash's letter but referred Transport Network to Mr Shapps' announcement last week, in which he said: 'In the coming days, the Government will work with unions, who have been supportive for which I am grateful, transport operators and police to ensure they have the supplies they need to be safe and provide reassurance to the public.'

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