Across the rail industry, station staff are being cut and casualised.
Train despatch is a particular target, with companies bringing in contractors. At Leeds, Manchester Piccadilly and other stations, agency staff are now despatching trains.
The old ‘Schedule 17’ gave some kind of adequate staffing on pain of fines, but since its demise in favour of a voluntary system, companies - for example, South West Trains - have left more and more stations unstaffed.
On the ex- Wessex Trains franchise, First Great Western is not filling vacancies, and responded to union demands for more staff by saying, ‘the provision of additional staff to eliminate lone working can not be justified’.
Eurostar is running its ticket offices with just six staff when it needs at least 15.
Many stations get ‘Secure Station’ accreditation, but this does not prove the station is actually safe. Rather, companies can use it as a fig leaf, allowing them to maintain dangerously low staffing levels but still get the badge because they have CCTV cameras and nice design ideas.
When a staff member was assaulted at First Capital Connect’s Elephant & Castle station, it was found that the CCTV had been broken for the previous three months!
And while we are supposed to be able to rely on the BTP, everyone knows that you can’t. Luton station’s experience is a common one - they only see the BTP on football days.
The unions need a concerted national public campaign, as RMT’s Station Grades Conference has been demanding for several years. But public opinion alone is never enough to win. We need industrial action, not just in a piecemeal fashion but co-ordinated across companies and areas for maximum impact.