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  • Writer's pictureFinn Brennan ASLEF Distri

Remember the Dead. Fight for the living.

This year it is more important than ever to mark International Workers Memorial Day today when we take time to remember all those who have lost their lives while earning their living over the last year. Rightly the focus will be on all those essential workers affected by Coronavirus in the NHS, on public transport and elsewhere; but we should also remember that in 2018/19 one hundred and forty seven people died in the UK in work accidents while six hundred thousand more were injured.

Protecting health and safety at work is a core part of what trade unions do. Nothing is more important than coming home from work alive and well. Too often the work that health and safety reps do isn’t appreciated. While disciplinary cases and negotiations on pay and conditions make the headlines, the vital work of keeping our members alive and safe is seen as being mundane and boring.

During the current crises, ASLEF H&S reps on the Underground have had to deal with unprecedented challenges. They have been expected by some to be overnight experts on everything from epidemiology to virology. They led the way on insisting on physical distancing in train crew accommodation and staff taxis. Our Trains H&S Council reps have produced over 20 bulletins and updates for members as the situation rapidly developed.

There is now clearly huge pressure from the Government on public transport operators to increase services as they prepare to ease lockdown restrictions. But while authorities in Madrid can hand out millions of masks and insist that passengers wear them, there are no plans to do the same in London. The Mayor has called for the public to wear face coverings while traveling, but there is no method or plan to enforce this. With more construction sites reopening and passenger numbers expected to increase, we will see more busy tube carriages and almost inevitably an increase in infections.

It is difficult to draw any other conclusion than that a Government that has proved utterly incompetent when it comes to providing PPE for NHS and care home staff is simply unable to do what other mass transit systems around the world can; provide masks to staff, let alone passengers.

ASLEF are in dispute with London Underground because we are insisting that new duties introduced as we move from emergency timetables, do not increase the risk to our members. Drivers must be able to maintain physical distancing and all unnecessary interactions avoided. So far, we have seen the tragic deaths of at least 29 transport workers in London. We can not and will not accept anything that risks increasing that number.

ASLEF encourages all members to observe the one-minute silence at 11:00 on Tuesday 28th April, stopping work where it is safe to do so. We remember and honour the dead; we keep on fighting for the living.

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