'Patchwork protection'

Unite welcomes London and West Yorkshire announcements on mask wearing – but warns of gov’t creating ‘chaos and confusion’ after dropping England-wide mandate

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While prime minister Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that most coronavirus restrictions would be dropped from Monday, July 19 — including mask wearing on public transport — city and metro mayors are taking a stand.

Unite welcomed news that London mayor Sadiq Khan will maintain mask requirements on the capital’s transport network beyond July 19, the date that people in England will otherwise no longer be legally obliged to do so.

Khan made the announcement on Wednesday (July 14), saying that he is “not prepared to stand by and put Londoners, and our city’s recovery, at risk”.

“By keeping face masks mandatory we will give Londoners and visitors the reassurance and confidence to make the most of what our city has to offer, while also protecting our heroic transport workers and those who may be vulnerable and rely on the network to get around our city,” he said.

“It’s an extra layer of protection on top of TfL’s world-leading enhanced cleaning regime – and I’m sure Londoners will continue to do the right thing as they have done throughout the pandemic, and continue to wear a face covering on TfL services,” Khan added.

Khan has told Transport for London (TfL) that it must make mask wearing ‘a condition of carriage’ after July 19, meaning mask wearing will still be enforced on the TfL network through a legal agreement between TfL and its customers. Those who refuse to do so will not be allowed to use public transport in London.

The mask wearing requirement will also extend to taxis and private hire vehicles for both passengers and drivers unless they are exempt.

Commenting, Unite lead officer for London buses, John Murphy, said, “Sadiq Khan has shown real political leadership by maintaining the requirement that face masks will continue to be mandatory throughout London’s public transport network.

“Unite has been one of loudest proponents of this excellent decision, which will provide reassurance to all passengers and public transport workers in London,” he added.

“It will not only help to reduce the spread of Covid-19 but it will also help to provide comfort to many commuters who are extremely nervous about returning to the workplace after 16 months.

“By taking the decision to continue to make the wearing of masks and face coverings mandatory, confidence in using public transport will return more quickly in the capital, which will in turn help the entire economy in the city,” Murphy continued.

“It is unfortunate that Boris Johnson’s irresponsibility means this measure is not being implemented across the nation’s entire public transport network, leaving the country, and even routes in and out of the capital, with patchwork protection.”

London is the first city in England that will continue to make mask wearing on public transport compulsory beyond July 19, when most government coronavirus restrictions will be eased or dropped altogether.

In Scotland and Wales, compulsory mask wearing on public transport will also continue.

Later on Wednesday (July 14), Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin announced that she would be using her powers to make mask wearing compulsory in West Yorkshire bus stations. Brabin made it clear that she would like to make mask wearing compulsory on all buses and trains in West Yorkshire, but does not have the power to do so.

While Unite welcomed the move, the union also highlighted that the patchwork protection of compulsory mask wearing that is emerging in the UK is creating chaos and confusion for workers and passengers alike. Unite said this is a direct result of the government’s reckless announcement that face coverings will no longer be compulsory on public transport from next Monday (July 19).

Commenting on Brabin’s announcement, Unite regional officer Phil Bown said, “Tracy Brabin has done totally the right thing and is maximising her powers to try to ensure the safety of bus workers and passengers in West Yorkshire.

“Due to the government’s reckless and dangerous decision to end compulsory mask wearing, there is going to be chaos and confusion across public transport, with some companies and areas enforcing mask wearing, while others fail to do so,” he added.

“Tracy Brabin is right to urge all passengers to wear masks but we should not be in this position. There was no good reason to end compulsory mask wearing by the government. It is creating uncertainty and anxiety for passengers and bus workers,” Bown continued.

“If passengers are confused by the patchwork nature of the new rules, they must not take their frustrations out on public transport workers, but blame the government, which has acted recklessly.”

Unite has written to all its members in England and advised them of their legal right to stop work if they believe they are in imminent danger due to non-mask wearing passengers.

Commenting earlier this week when the government said it would be dropping compulsory mask wearing after July 19, Unite national officer for public transport Bobby Morton said, “It is deeply regrettable that the government has pigheadedly decided to continue with their ill-conceived decision to end the requirement to wear masks on public transport.

“With the government now saying people are ‘expected and recommended’ to wear masks but no longer having to do so by law, it has created confusion and it is guilty of dangerous mixed messaging,” he added.

“As a consequence Unite has a duty to ensure our members are fully aware of their rights and don’t knowingly risk their health and safety at work.

“Bus drivers have been in the frontline since the pandemic began and have played a key role in keeping communities functioning. They deserve to be treated better than this by the government,” Morton continued.

“If workers do feel that they cannot work safely, this will inevitably cause delays and disruptions in services. I hope that the general public appreciates that this is a problem entirely of the government’s making.”

By Hajera Blagg

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