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Network Rail Knee Jerk Reaction Causes COVID Confusion

16 July 2021

There’s been a lot of anger and confusion from members in Network Rail this week after the company issued premature and contradictory covid guidance. Your TSSA union challenged NR on this and following the publication of legally binding ORR guidance on Wednesday we secured confirmation from NR yesterday that each and every measure that was in place prior to Monday’s announcement is still in place. Read on for full information.

 Jumped the gun
At the beginning of this week – prior to the Government’s announcement on COVID restrictions – we warned Network Rail not to jump the gun on any relaxation or changes to COVID control measures. Not only did we advise them that any changes would have to be thoroughly worked through, we also pointed out that alongside the Government announcement we needed to wait for industry specific guidance – that Network Rail knew was coming this Wednesday – from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and the Rail Industry Coronavirus Forum (RICF). At Monday’s meeting Network Rail gave assurances that they would not rush headlong into implementing changes and that comms would not be issued until they had the full picture.

Despite these assurances, less than 48 hours later Network Rail went with the knee jerk reaction and issued a set of inconsistent and contradictory comms across the business that did nothing more than cause utter confusion amongst staff.

Rather than take a pragmatic and consistent approach, Regional and Functional Directors issued comms to staff ahead of any industry guidance and without any real consideration of how any changes would actually impact on you and your colleagues.

Low and behold, late Wednesday evening - following meetings that Network Rail had been party to – the ORR issued a guiding set of three guiding principles that the dutyholders under their jurisdiction must follow when addressing any changes to COVID control measures.

The ORR guiding principles are clear:
1.    Before any change can be implemented, ALL risk assessments associated with COVID 19 should be reviewed. Any control measure introduced to comply with previous government announcements (e.g. social distancing) should be risk assessed to consider the impact of any proposed change. Before any changes can be implemented, sufficient time needs to be allowed for completing the reviews and communicating the changes to employees.
2.    Plans to react and adapt to keep pace with government measures and scientific research should be maintained. Emergency plans should be in place so the industry is in a state of readiness should we need to react to COVID 19 variants or other high-risk variants. In doing so, dutyholders should look to engineer solutions to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
3.    Acknowledging the successful introduction of COVID 19 risk control throughout the rail industry, and to ensure  a consistent approach with workable solutions, all dutyholders should collaborate fully with the Trades Unions and employees. 

This now leaves Network Rail with egg on their faces. As we said, their comms were premature. As we said they issued comms that are not in line with the industry guidance. As we said, they have caused confusion amongst staff.

Yesterday we met with Network Rail, alongside the other unions, we made it abundantly clear that Network Rail must adhere to the ORR guidance and that we expect full collaboration when considering any change to the current COVID control measures.

When challenged on their comms, Network Rail seemed to back pedal somewhat, saying that the comms did not indicate that changes were being implemented and that in fact ALL COVID control measures and associated risk assessments were still in place and there would be no change to ANY controls until they had been fully assessed.

Confused? We thought so.

We have now demanded that Network Rail retract the statements made earlier this week, and issue comms to all staff that clearly states what the current situation is and the process for any changes.

If Network Rail fail to carry out full risk assessments to each and every control or fail to fully collaborate with us, we will not hesitate in involving the ORR at National, Regional or Local level. 

All members are reminded that if at any point you believe you or your colleagues are in serious and imminent danger of potential infection by the Covid-19 virus, you have the legal right to refuse to begin a task or continue with a task and should invoke the Worksafe Procedure and/or issue a Close Call.

Changes are coming, when agreed
TSSA fully understands and accepts that changes to the control measures will need to take place. Much as we did at the beginning of the pandemic when control measures began to be introduced, we all, Trade Unions and the employer, need to look at how changes impact upon each and every employee and ensure that we do all we can to keep you, your colleagues and your families as safe as possible.

Yes, change is coming, and in some circumstances there will be a relaxing of restrictions, but equally so, some measures will remain, and in some instances there may well be a need for controls to be increased or new ones introduced.

TSSA will ensure that our representatives are involved with all issues affecting our members. TSSA representatives will receive support and guidance on how to make sure all our members, their colleagues and their families are kept as safe and healthy as possible. We will work as swiftly and efficiently as we can to address all concerns, but this will take time and a bit more effort than the knee jerk, throw away response that Network Rail first gave earlier this week.

Until then, and as it stands at the moment, and as confirmed by Network Rail yesterday, each and every measure that was in place prior to Monday’s announcement is still in place.

TSSA members can find the latest advice and guidance via the COVID Advice page on our website: TSSA COVID Advice 


Strengthen your voice on matters that concern you.
The rail industry is facing some of the most significant changes in its history. Make sure you and your colleagues have a voice on these changes and in shaping the future of Britain's railways. If you know anyone who is yet to join TSSA, please encourage them to do so.
Forward them this email and ask them to follow this link - 
www.tssa.org.uk/join

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