Rail union, the RMT, has threatened strike action after plans to introduce unpaid, untrained labour into the railway sector were announced.
From Monday 15 June, all passengers on public transport across England will be asked to wear face coverings. This, and other safety measures such as social distancing, will be enforced by a group of unwaged workers variously called “journey makers” and “Transport Guardian Angels”.
Confirming the proposal on the BBC Today programme this morning, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We are going to have thousands of people from the British Transport Police, Network Rail, Transport for London and actually a whole army of volunteers from a volunteer organisation”.
General Secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, said the contract between the Department for Transport and voluntary body Volunteering Matters to recruit these “Journey Makers” was “a backroom deal” made “without even so much as conversation with rail unions”.
“These volunteer roles include safety critical functions that only highly skilled and highly trained workers should be undertaking,” he said.
Mick Cash also warned that it was “clear” the recruitment of volunteers would not be enough to police the policy and that existing staff would be expected to provide enforcement.
“That will put over-stretched rail workers right in the front line once again and will leave them at risk of being abused, assaulted and spat at by aggressive passengers refusing to comply,” he said.
“The government need to get a grip rather than winging it with these important policy announcements.”
Although rail unions welcomed the use of face masks to make railways safer, Mick Cash said he saw the secretive deal made with Volunteering Matters to be a “deliberate provocation” of his union.
“We will fight this with everything at our disposal including balloting our members for strike action,” he said.