As the London Underground row continues between the Prime Minister and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, transport unions have urged commuters to avoid the Tube to prevent overcrowding.
The London Mayor Sadiq Khan sparked fury earlier today by suggesting Tube services could be cut back even further, as more Underground staff are forced to stay off work due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for more trains to be running to ease the over-crowding on Underground services, as the country goes into ‘lockdown’ to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, Mr Khan has suggested Transport for London (TfL) are unable to add more trains due to staffing issues.
A third of TfL staff are currently ill or in self-isolation – including a large number of train drivers and customer-facing personnel – leading the Mayor to suggest services could be cut back even more.
The Prime Minister said earlier today: “My own view is that we should be able to run a better Tube system at the moment, we should be able to get more Tubes on the line”, and said he will give the mayor “every support” to get through “what seems to me to be his present logistical difficulties”.
The limited services running on the Underground led to more scenes of packed trains today as commuters – many of whom are key workers – made their way to work.
Transport unions have today weighed in on the issue, and have called on commuters to heed the government’s advice regarding social distancing and staying at home unless absolutely necessary.
ASLEF organiser Finn Brennan said:
We don’t need more trains on London Underground, we need fewer passengers. As MPs vote to leave their own place of work today, it is disgraceful that the government puts key workers’ lives at risk by refusing to close other non-essential workplaces.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said:
The idea that the Tube can run with a normal service level is utter nonsense. Thirty per cent of Underground staff are either off sick as a result of COVID-19 or in self-isolation.
Also, to have a normal service suggests to the public that it’s business as normal. Plus the cuts to staff numbers implemented by our current Prime Minister as Mayor of London has left no effective cover for those off sick.
Our members need the space to carry out their duties on the Tube, making sure services for key workers are able to run smoothly and safely. Matt Hancock must stop playing petty blame games and if he’s unsure about what needs to happen on the Tube I’d be happy to set him straight, by phone.
In all seriousness, it looks as though the Tories are prepared to defend the interests of building companies who’ve made huge donations to their coffers, rather than protect the lives of ordinary Londoners and Tube staff.
The government must ban working on all building sites now unless the work is vital to protect health and safety – and make sure these workers are given the financial package they need.
As I have said, ministers must come forward today with measures guaranteeing the income of workers in the gig economy, the self-employed and freelancers. That will go a long way to reducing the numbers who feel they have no choice but to travel to work on public transport in the capital and beyond.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
At a time when we are trying to encourage people to stay away from the Tube so we can concentrate on moving essential workers the government call to reinstate a full service is grossly irresponsible as it suggests it’s business as usual. That flies in the face of everything they have said about staying at home.
The real problem is this government’s refusal to give any wage support to casualised workers who will receive no income if they don’t travel and go to work. We need to put the nation’s health first – close the building sites and shut down the rogue employers and give the same wage support to casual workers as those on PAYE – run a free, stripped-back railway for essential staff so that our vital health, retail and other key workers can travel free from cost and fear of contamination on crowded trains.
The government are also ignoring the fact that large numbers of LU staff are self-isolating and those left on the job feel dangerously vulnerable. We would call on the government to withdraw their “business as usual” lines and work with the tube unions and the Mayor to protect health, safety, livelihoods and travel services for essential workers.
As coronavirus-related deaths in the capital continue to grow, the Mayor of London is facing increasing pressure to restore Underground services to normal levels, with some NHS workers claiming they are now more worried about travelling to work than treating coronavirus patients in hospitals.
In a statement today though, Mr Khan said:
Nearly a third of TfL’s staff are now off sick or self-isolating – including train drivers and crucial control centre staff.
Many of them have years of safety-critical training in order to run specific lines – so it is simply not possible to replace them with others.
TfL will do everything possible to continue safely running a basic service for key workers, including our amazing NHS staff, but if the number of TfL staff off sick or self-isolating continues to rise – as we sadly expect it will – we will have no choice but to reduce services further.