Fleet and engineering workers in the pandemic

Posted in Tubeworker's blog on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 10:13,
LU fleet depot

Today at Tubeworker we wanted to talk about the plight of our sometimes unseen - despite being dressed head-to-toe in hi-vis gear! - key frontline workers within fleet and engineering.

Many go to work under the cover of darkness or in remote locations unknown to the travelling public, but their role, just like that of station staff, train operators, cleaners, and others - is a vital part in the success and safe operation of London's transport network.

Whilst an appropriate action over the coronavirus pandemic was of course to promote social distancing and mitigate unnecessary risks to staff, some workplaces are still experiencing issues with management trying to bully vulnerable staff back to work and or "encouraging" staff to take annual leave, despite the UK being desperate to run a service for vital workers and simultaneously in a state of lockdown. At the same time, management continue with non-essential work including tasks which are done in pairs or part of a team, making distancing impossible. In short, unions believe management's approach is erratic and nonsensical. It has also been noted that management are trying to use PPE and RPE as some kind of a 21st century Holy Grail, without putting additional measures in place to minimise risk.

Unions are not prepared to accept this, and have demanded steps are taken to mitigate against the risk of contracting coronavirus:

1: Is the task essential or emergency maintenance?
2: Can social distancing be achieved? If not, how can it be without imposing additional risks?
3. PPE & RPE must be an absolute last resort for when the task is absolutely essential and cannot be carried out whilst distancing.

Union reps believe risk assessments must reviewed prior to any such tasks going ahead as many of these tasks have never before utilised these forms of RPE. Unions are rightly concerned that the additional bulky RPE is being suggested as a lazy solution by management. It may not be fit for purposes and has the potential to create additional risks to staff.

Some areas are still experiencing high volumes of workload and have not seen a reduction of non-essential work. Other areas have even reported management bringing additional staff in an attempt to get their stopped car list down, essentially using the reduced service as a chance to play catch up on a backlog of work created by their reluctance to fill vacancies which is now potentially putting staff at unnecessary risk.

A number of concerns have been raised about increased cleaning regimes across all functions, as we have seen many other countries around the world regularly disinfecting public areas and transport systems. On LU, it was reps who acted swiftly and took the lead, ensuring cleaning regimes would be effective. Using their skills and that of their colleagues as subject matter experts, reps compiled detailed documents for each stock, identifying high traffic areas and touch points in order to keep staff and the travelling public safe. Sadly, in some areas this proactive approach is still being resisted.

Fleet and engineering staff are playing a vital part in ensuring a safe train service for Londoners, and here at Tubeworker we stand in solidarity with them.

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