The latest in a series of strikes around the country are set to hit rail operators who are pushing for DOO (driver-only operation) in a drive to eliminate guards on their trains. For the operators, it’s all about saving money – a leaked report put that beyond doubt.
For unions, the key issue is the critical role played by their members in the safety of rail users and the general public – even the leaked report on cost savings acknowledges the risk of more – and more severe – accidents if guards are eliminated.
The rail operators, at least publicly, claim that the guards’ role is non-essential and that putting a customer-service manager on some trains is enough – but considering that they don’t think their trains need guards, they seem to be going to extensive lengths to cover shifts of guards during the strike action.
The striking guards are members of the RMT rail union – but the TSSA union to which many other rail employees belong has issued a briefing to its members that makes clear that the rail employers are making significant efforts to cover roles they say they can safely do without:
- asking staff to work extra hours to cover
- asking staff to work as guards when they are not trained to do so
- asking staff to cover guard shortages the operators themselves have created by banning overtime by trained guards
- asking staff in companies not involved in the strike to cover shifts for other companies
Seems like a lot of effort to cover non-essential roles, doesn’t it?
Of course, the TSSA, the RMT, the guards and rail users all know how essential the guard’s role is to passenger and public safety. As a TSSA statement on the role of guards notes:
- Drivers can’t assist passengers getting on and off trains at unstaffed stations, and they are obviously unable to deal with or deter potential or actual assaults while the train is moving! And at this time of heightened security risk on the railways, drivers are not going to spot suspect devices from their cabs.
- The recent derailment and consequent head-on collision between two London Midland trains in a tunnel near Watford should ring alarm bells – with both drivers in no fit state to assist traumatised passengers, it was the guards that were in a position to assist them.
- As passenger numbers continue to increase, it is more important than ever that trains are staffed by people other than just a driver, people that are trained in crisis management, can safely evacuate a train, provide emergency first response, summon assistance, protect the train, and deter assaults and terrorist attacks.
- The rail industry professes to want to make access to rail services easier for those with disabilities and mobility difficulties in the name of equalities. This will only be possible if there are staff available at stations and on trains to assist them in boarding and alighting, and dealing with any incidents during their journeys. And removing a second person from trains will do nothing to deliver quality customer service!
The TSSA has also reminded its staff of their right to refuse to do work outside their contracted job description – and of the serious potential legal consequences if an incident occurs while they are covering jobs for which they are unqualified.
While the union cannot legally encourage its members to participate in ‘secondary industrial action’, it also reminds them of their personal right to cross picket lines and asks them to think hard whether it is moral or ethical to cover the work of employees fighting for safety and jobs.
And absolutely right, too.
Trains need guards, because passengers need guards – and we should all be taking every legal step to support the guards in their fight.
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