Rail unions slam government’s “mixed messages” over easing lockdown

Rail unions have criticised the government over “mixed messages” about easing lockdown measures.

The Prime Minister used today’s coronavirus crisis press conference to beg people to get back to work to boost the British economy and unveiled a new ‘contain framework’ designed to show that the virus is under control.

Boris Johnson urged people to use public transport between 9am and 4pm, rather than travel during peak times, saying: “There is a lot of spare capacity that is not being used.”

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “We need clarity and we are not getting clarity from this government. Mr Johnson and his ministers have become the masters of mixed messaging and misleading information.

“We have worked with the industry and the government throughout this pandemic to ensure the increase in capacity that allows safe travel and operation with proper social distancing.

“Mr Johnson must be careful not to send out more mixed messages that compromise the safety of key workers travelling, or operating, all modes of transport.

“We cannot deliver safely anywhere like the peaks of the past and we are not convinced that this is the right time to relax procedures designed to keep passengers, and staff, safe from covid-19 on public transport in Britain.

“As train drivers we believe in public transport – we love trains! – and we want people to use trains and buses. But we want passengers to be able to travel safely and this seems to be too much, too soon.

“We look forward to the time when we can safely get back to normal and rail forms the backbone of a green economic recovery for Britain.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “This is more mixed messages from the government and a lack of clarity on key points. It’s clear that the government is now desperate to pass the blame for its mishandling of the pandemic onto others, whether local authorities, employers or individuals.

“Hancock’s nonsense yesterday about the lockdown starting a week before it did is a case in point. The Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) was crystal clear as he addressed MPs yesterday: his advice was for the lockdown to start earlier as the R number was already at 3 on 16 March.

“Today, the government is simply adding to its litany of mixed messages, hoping this is going to get them off the hook. Telling bosses and workers that they can return to the office from the first of August – but then when questioned saying he agrees with what the CSA said yesterday that people should continue to work from home. Clear as mud.

“Of course, this is a deliberate strategy to pin the blame on individuals as they have to make decisions with no clear direction in the vague hope that the government won’t get the blame when things go wrong. Frankly, the Prime Minister ought to know that it won’t wash as the buck stops with him.”

RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Covid-19 is waging war against both lives and livelihoods but in recent days the government’s response has once again been mired in chaos, confusion and mixed messaging.

“Today we are seeking urgent talks with transport ministers to stress it is vital for the protection of jobs, the economy and our climate that any increase in public transport use must be both safe, sustainable and underpinned by a coherent national plan.

“That plan must includes a new deal for public transport that massively expands funding and capacity to also allow for cheaper fares and more flexible travel plans, and which puts passenger and workers’ safety before privatisation and profiteering.”

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