Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon paid tribute to transport workers in a roundtable session with TSSA reps on Tuesday and said that Labour thought transport workers should be next in line for vaccination.
Speaking to workers from across London, including London Overground, London Underground, Transport for London and buses, Jim McMahon MP thanked TSSA members for their bravery and commitment to keeping our country moving, saying “you have put yourselves at great risk”. This message was enforced by newly-appointed shadow transport minister, Sam Tarry MP, TSSA’s former political officer.
TSSA member and transport manager Alan relayed concerns about negative publicity and comments about transport workers - “especially from the Tories” - and challenged Labour to stand up for them.
“I will always stand up for transport workers”, said Jim. “We need to be a bit more generous when we talk about front line staff – actually a lot of it wouldn’t work without the ‘back office’. It’s needed to keep morale up.” On the issue of vaccines, Jim said the government was dragging its feet: “We are concerned about occupational priorities and government hasn’t come forward with priority lists. Based on the evidence, our view is that transport workers are one of those groups” he explained.
The issue of whether workplaces are covid-secure was brought home by Mohnish, a control worker in London Overground. “We were told we were covid-secure, but just before Christmas we had a covid outbreak and about 10% of staff tested positive” he said. Having to self-isolate over the Christmas period “was a stressful time” he explained. Operationally, his control team managed to keep going, but lots of people had leave cancelled and Mohnish shared the “really big impact it had on us”. Thankfully Mohnish tested negative, but he’s left feeling the need for new, better and updated risk assessments to trust that workplaces really are covid secure.
Ticket office worker Abdul said: “the company claims it’s a covid-secure office, but they have no idea”, highlighting varying cleaning regimes and the general absence of management. Calling for a ‘gold standard’ to be introduced, he emphasised the need for employers to follow both government guidelines and also NHS rules “to make people feel safe and secure”.
The stresses and strains of home working were vividly explained by admin and management rep Sandra. “The way the policies are drafted, they think it’s a luxury to be working from home, when it’s not” she said. “Until TSSA fought it, we had to use our own equipment, for a start.” Describing the reality for so many staff working from home, Sandra said: “People are working long hours. It’s lonely. I’m seeing staff really struggling with working from home, especially those who are also having to home school young children. And the guidelines are not helping managers to manage staff who are working from home.”
Jim was empathetic, and his immediate reply was that “switching off is a big problem.” Emphasising the role that employers and managers can play, he spoke of the need to trust and support staff, saying “most people go above and beyond, often in a way which compromises their home or family life.” As the pandemic prolongs homeworking for so many, the ‘make do’ proactive attitude that so many workers have had now needs to be bolstered with the right tech and set up, including screens, printers, chairs and desks to ensure a safe working environment. “Every employer has that responsibility”, said Jim, “they have to make sure your work environment is safe and secure.”
Towards the end of the meeting, TfL worker David asked about Labour’s attitude towards the recovery and what that looks like for rail. “We’re living on three-to-six-month funding packages at TfL and we’re already seeing the mothballing of projects like Crossrail 2” he said. “People are worried about their job security as well as their health.”
“Our very firm view is that transport is an economic enabler” came the reply from Labour’s transport secretary. Speaking of the need to level up and invest in transport across the country, Jim said he was equally interested in a warehouse worker successfully travelling by bus across Manchester work as he was in big projects like HS2. And he slammed the greed of private rail operators who have received hundreds of millions from government during the pandemic. “Rather than losing money and giving it to foreign investors, it’s far better to invest in our own networks” he said.
On the case of Transport for London, Jim was clear that “the government needs to stop playing politics. The financial package is meant to be there to support our economy and recovery. We don’t want workers to be paying the ultimate price with their jobs.”
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