Government spending cuts compromise rail safety30 July 2014
Rail passenger and maintenance workers at risk owing to budget cuts
Railway workers are concerned about rail safety due to a lack of adequate government funding for Network Rail, according to a report published by the TUC’s Action for Rail campaign.
The research, carried out by the Working Lives Institute at London Metropolitan University on behalf of the four trade unions behind the campaign, ASLEF, RMT, Unite and TSSA, revealed that the overriding concern for rail employees is safety.
Railway workers, who took part in a series of focus groups as part of the research, were concerned that government funding cuts have led to staff shortages and less frequent inspections. Safety fears when raised are now rarely acted upon and as a result staff are reluctant to make reports.
The increased use of private contractors by Network Rail has also led to the proliferation of workers on zero-hours contracts, where employees often feel that they have to accept work they may be too tired to carry out safely amid fears they may not be offered work again if they refuse.
Simon Dewsbury of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “We have a long history of campaigning for workers’ safety through our work with trade unions, including those in the rail industry.
“This report reinforces the fact that government budget cuts are having a hugely detrimental effect on workers’ safety. The government cannot ignore first-hand accounts about the impact of its funding cuts from those whose safety is under threat on a day-to-day basis. The government ignores this at their peril. If there is an incident that injures a rail worker or passenger it'll be down to them.
“Increased privatisation isn't the answer; that simply helps the government's friends in big business, impacts on workers’ rights and creates widespread insecurity as companies exploit those desperate for work by using zero-hours contracts.
“We see the impact of poor safety standards in our work with personal injury victims. Government should be striving to continually improve safety, rather than taking backward steps in workers’ safety conditions in a bid to save money.”
The Impact of Efficiency Savings on Network Rail Staff, Performance and Safety put forward a number of recommendations, including:
- An investigation into the long-term impact of budget cuts and reductions in staffing upon the safety of railways;
- A ban on private contractors employing staff on zero-hours contracts who are carrying out safety-critical work;
- A need to address the lack of reporting of safety concerns across the rail network.
To read the full Impact of Efficiency Savings on Network Rail Staff, Performance and Safety report, click here.
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