COVID-19 MEASURES – NETWORK RAIL
Your National Executive Committee has asked that I circulate the following documents to you, our members working for Network Rail (NR).
These documents have been drawn up by NR following discussions at a senior level with RMT Representatives.
They are as follows:
The documents are complementary to each other.
The Safe Work Principles set out NR’s general position for their own staff and their supply chain contractors during the period of the health emergency. Significantly you will note that they are not attempting to run business as usual which appeared to be their position last week.
Their commitment on this document is that:
“Network Rail and its supply chain companies shall amend their workloads, practices and required staffing levels to that which are essential to provide, operate and support the railway. In doing so, they will reduce the number of staff required to operate and maintain the railway safely and reduce the numbers of workers potentially in circulation and exposed to infection and transmission.”
This should reduce the numbers of key workers required and in circulation on the railway and only essential work for the operation of the railway should be carried out. Staff that are not required for this essential work should remain at home.
The document also sets out that best practice in protecting workers by NR and their supply chain including enforcing distancing and eliminating the congregation of staff should be applied.
Section 10 gives a commitment that:
“Staff that are symptomatic, have underlying conditions, or have members of their household, that are considered vulnerable will be required to stay at home and will be paid their full pay. For staff working to a roster this will be their base roster or base published roster including any contractual allowance.”
While this is a good and positive commitment in itself, the issue will be the government’s definition of underlying conditions and the vulnerable which may not align with individual’s own expectations.
The Prioritising Work and Minimising Exposure document is a clarification of the commitment to only conduct essential work to provide operate and support the railway in this period.
You will see that it provides for “priority maintenance only” and will “not require staff to undertake non-essential maintenance tasks”.
Track renewals are to be paused and the work bank reviewed in each Rote to determine if the work can be carried out within the social distancing guidelines; where this is the case the work will proceed.
Where work cannot be completed whilst complying with social distancing guidelines then the criticality of the work is to be reviewed and work should proceed only where it is deemed critical to maintaining a safety and operational railway.
The other documents are NR policies which they have compiled following our discussions and represent their interpretations of practices to be adopted based on the commitments given in the safe work principles and the general health guidance provided by the government.
There are two separate documents for those working at home and another for key workers required to come to the workplace.
For the key workers you will see there are some changes in work practices including home start and travel direct to worksite, use of own vehicles with company insurance covering. Mileage payments will be made for own car use in this period and the details will be covered in a separate document.
Company vehicles can be used for home to work travel and the HMRC restrictions have been lifted for the period.
These again are positive commitments and will help to alleviate concerns about travelling in groups in vehicles and congregating of staff at booking on points and mess rooms. Local pragmatic solutions will develop to work around the problems that will arise once these principles and policies are published.
However, I have to point out that whatever solutions are created to deal with most issues there is no getting away from the fact that on track there will be certain tasks that will certainly compromise the 2M distancing, or the task will not be possible. Members carrying out such task will have to make the best use of PPE (gloves, masks, eyewear etc.) to minimise the risks.
While the principle do seem oriented to track work they do apply to all staff and our members in signal locations, control rooms, offices, etc. will have to be vigilant in enforcing social distancing at all times taking whatever practical measures they can.
In compiling these documents there has been genuine dialogue with NR and they have changed their stance and approach during the process which at the beginning was essentially business as usual and prompted by the Department for Transport.
Of course their position and that of our members is not helped by the government’s cavalier approach to the construction industry at present which has many similarities and they have gone further than the approach in that sector.
There may be further developments as the emergency continues and I will remain in dialogue with the company and inform you of any developments.