The government has finally announced, well behind many other countries, that face coverings will be compulsory on public transport from 15 June. No sooner had the policy been announced than ministers appeared to unpick it, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying they only needed to be worn on trains and buses themselves, not in stations.
Volunteers will apparently be on hand outside some Tube stations to distribute face coverings. Unions have rightly raised concerns about whether this will be part of the wider deployment of volunteers at mainline train stations, who the Department for Transport says "will play a crucial supporting role in keeping people moving by easing crowding and providing advice to help maintain social distancing, protecting passengers and tackling the spread of the virus."
An RMT statement in response said: "Passengers should not be relying on volunteers and would be much safer in the knowledge that the person assisting them is a fully trained station staff member. These plans are not only a concern for our members’ job security, but also the health and safety of the entire railway industry."
Cloth face coverings have been available to staff for some time, although many doubt their efficacy. A particular controversy ensued recently after RMT procured nearly 3,000 plastic face shields for frontline staff across LU, something many of us have been calling for as an additional protection measure against spitting attacks of the type we've seen at Victoria and Stratford. Although the employer, rather than the union, should be responsible for providing this equipment, we were happy to see the union stepping up when bosses wouldn't.
Little wonder that many station staff reacted angrily, then, when LU issued instructions to staff not to wear the visors, on the basis that they weren't official LU issue! "Give us an official LU issue one and we'll wear that: until then, let us wear this one" was the reaction of many. Thanks to pressure from union reps, LU have now affirmed that they won't discipline anyone who chooses to wear one of the RMT-supplied face shields, and the company has also agreed to produce and trial an initial supply of their own visors.