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Rail union RMT warns of potential strike action over plans to hire unskilled volunteers on the railways

RAIL union RMT warned of strike action today after learning of government plans to introduce a workforce of unpaid and unskilled “transport guardian angels” on Britain’s railway network.

The union says a contract has been drawn up between the Department for Transport and volunteering charity Volunteering Matters to recruit an unspecified number of volunteers to perform safety-critical roles at railway stations.

RMT said the proposal had not been discussed with the union before recruitment adverts were published.

“There is no agreement between rail unions and any train operating companies for volunteers to be used in safety-critical roles, which will include tasks like supporting passenger flow in and out of stations and guiding passengers through new designated social distancing safe pathways,” the union said.

In an urgent letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, RMT called on the government to immediately withdraw from the scheme or face the possibility of industrial action.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT is furious that the Department for Transport has done a backroom deal to recruit unpaid and unskilled workers on our railway without even so much as a conversation with rail unions.

“These volunteer roles include safety critical functions that only highly skilled and highly trained workers should be undertaking. The safety of passengers and workers must come first – and make no mistake, RMT will vehemently oppose this action.

“I have today written to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, demanding that his department immediately withdraws from this ill-advised collaboration.

“RMT regards this as a deliberate provocation and we will fight this with everything at our disposal, including balloting our members for strike action.”

The Volunteering Matters group and the Department for Transport were asked to comment but had not responded at the time of going to press.

RMT also called on the government to extend emergency funding for operators to firms which do not hold franchises, including Hull Trains and Grand Central.

The government is pumping tens of millions of pounds into franchise-holding rail operators to enable them to gradually increase services as lockdown regulations are relaxed.

 

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