Non-key Scottish road, rail and ferry workers must be stood down - unions

Business continuing as usual at depots is “absolutely shocking”, Unite said.

Scotland TranServ maintains motorways and other major roads in Glasgow and the south west of Scotland.

Unite Scotland and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) has called for employees not vital to keeping transport networks open stood down to help protect them from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Unite - Scotland’s biggest union with 150,000 members - said construction and maintenance work should stop immediately to reduce their risk.

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It said workers at Scotland TranServ, which maintain motorways and major roads in and around Glasgow, were told it was “business as usual”.

The union said the instruction was issued to staff at the firm’s depots at Polmadie in Glasgow and Ayr despite Scottish ministers instructing non-NHS construction work to cease.

‘Inundated by reports’

Unite said it had been “inundated” by reports of construction workers turning up for work at non-essential sites and having to use public transport or shared transport to comply with employer requests, or face losing wages

Scotland TranServ, part owned by Balfour Beatty, works across south west Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency.

Unite regional industrial officer David McGurk said: “Unite Scotland has been informed that Balfour Beatty continues on non-essential maintenance works for Transport Scotland.

“We have been told one manager said that it was ‘business as usual’, which our members find absolutely shocking.

‘Scant regard’

“It shows the scant regard for the health and well-being of workers.

“Workers are sharing welfare facilities, changing rooms and sharing vans which makes it impossible to respect the 2m social-distancing rules.

“While we understand the need for emergency cover and essential repairs, the carrying out of graffiti removal, cutting short grass and carrying out other non-essential duties is reckless and dangerous in the fight against Covid-19.

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“The First Minister stated last week that only essential work should be carried out but Transport Scotland is allowing their contractors to carry out non-essential duties.

“We call on Transport Scotland and Balfour Beatty to cease this work immediately and that the workers be put on full pay.”

Meantime, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said non-essential rail workers should also be stood down.

He said ScotRail and CalMac should follow cross-Border train operator LNER in removing booking office staff, and also close ticket offices with fewer than 20 sales a day.

‘Health is being put at risk’

He said “Rail passenger levels across ScotRail have fallen by about 75 per cent, and since CalMac moved to essential travel only, their passenger numbers have dropped 97 per cent.

“There are multiple functions - such as ticket offices, call centre and ScotRail’s gate staff - who are not needed and whose health is being put at risk by going into work.

“Many others could be working from home.

“People are rightly following the Scottish Government’s advice to work at home wherever possible rather than take the train to work.

“Now it’s time for transport secretary Michael Matheson to take the next logical step and order travel companies to send all their non-essential staff home on full pay for their own safety.

“Not only would this mean transport workers were safe from the risk of coronavirus, but it would reduce pressure on the limited school places available now by freeing up parents to take care of their children themselves.

Scotland TranServ said it had introduced new measures so staff could continue to work safely.

Its spokesperson said: “As a provider of essential services, we will continue to support the emergency services, freight and retail workers whose role is so important to the health, safety and supply of our communities.

‘Safe and efficient’

“In response to Scottish Government guidance, Transport Scotland has asked that all non-essential operations and maintenance temporarily cease.

“We are working with Transport Scotland to ensure this is delivered in a safe and efficient manner.

“Already a number of road surface improvement works and other projects have been suspended in line with this guidance.

“We have introduced a number of new vehicles to our fleet, provided additional welfare facilities, staggered shift patterns, reviewed and changed working practices, increased depot cleaning and procured new face masks, gloves, wipes and hand sanitiser.

“We continue to provide workers with information on social distancing for their working environment.

“All staff who are able to fulfil their role from home are already doing so.

“Scotland TranServ continues to support and advise frontline employees in working safely to deliver essential services, while following government and parent company guidelines.”

Essential work continuing

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Following the First Minister’s announcement on 24 March, we wrote to all our operating companies instructing that all non-essential work on the operation and maintenance of the trunk road network be ceased until further notice.

“Continuing essential work includes items such as safety inspections, incident response and the repair of safety-critical carriageway defects.

“It also includes other less-obvious essential tasks such as targeted drainage maintenance to prevent flooding and vegetation clearance, because it obscures mandatory road signs.

“Operating companies were also instructed to make safe any existing sites so they do not present a hazard to the public.

“We are reviewing these items with our maintenance agents on a regular basis.

“The operating companies continue to develop and implement working practices which align to the general advice about working in the current Covid climate, including social distancing and use of hand sanitiser.

“They will continue to explore and enhance these measures where appropriate.”

‘Clear guidance’

On ScotRail, the spokesperson said: “Our key priority is protecting the lives of everyone in Scotland as we continue to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Transport staff play an important role in ensuring key and critical workers can access public transport services safely.

“The Scottish Government has issued clear guidance for key workers, and on working from home wherever possible.

“We are aware that these steps have been implemented extensively by a number of public transport operators, including ScotRail and CalMac.”

Phil Campbell, ScotRail’s head of customer operations, said: “The safety of our people is an absolute priority and we are working very closely with the Scottish Government and others to make sure we are continuing to comply with the current coronavirus advice.

“We know how important a role Scotland’s Railway is playing to keep key workers moving across the country, and our people are proud to be part of the effort throughout Scotland to deliver this vital service.”

CalMac said all its non-essential staff were already working from home.

Managing director Robbie Drummond said: “Staff essential to keeping lifeline services to island communities running are doing a fantastic job, and we have taken several steps to ensure their safety, and the safety of those limited passengers still travelling with us.

“This includes regular wipe downs of surfaces in ports and on board with specialist cleanser, sanitisers in every port, an overall reduction in service to limit exposure to front line staff, the closing of our on-board retail offering and the moving to cashless payments.”