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Covid-19: Public Transport Workers and Key Worker Rail Users

Transport – in the House of Commons on 18th May 2020.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Office)

What recent steps he has taken to protect (a) public transport drivers and (b) other public transport workers during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Labour, Norwich South

What recent steps the Government have taken to help prevent key workers who (a) work on and (b) use the rail network contracting covid-19.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

What recent steps he has taken to protect (a) public transport drivers and (b) other public transport workers during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I pay tribute to all public transport drivers and workers, who have been working incredibly hard to ensure that those on the frontline can get to work. New safer transport guidance was published on 12 May, and we are working closely with transport operators across the sector on its implementation.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Last week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics show that public transport drivers have one of the highest covid-19-related death rates compared with other professions. With the Government encouraging people to go back to work and many workers having no choice but to use public transport, what extra measures have the Government taken to protect drivers and other public transport workers?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The safety of public transport workers is of course paramount for the Government, and we have been working with operators to ensure that additional measures are put in place. These include risk assessments, looking at who should be at work, social distancing and face coverings, workforce planning, queue and passenger flow management, and the way that emergency incidents are dealt with, in addition to cleaning ventilation, communications and other forms of training.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

I thank the Minister for his answer. To protect public transport workers’ safety, they need job security. The Government’s funding arrangement runs out with the Metro and Nexus on 9 June, so it is fine that risk assessments are taking place, but we need the trains to run. Can the Government tell me when the arrangements will be made with the Metro and Nexus to allow our crucial Metro system to carry on running?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

We continue to work with the metro Mayors to look at these issues, and we work closely, in conjunction with Treasury Ministers, to ensure that the funding necessary is provided and that we can support public transport networks right across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. May I start by paying tribute to our frontline transport workers, and may I offer my condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives through covid-19?

The latest advice from the Government now explicitly rules out providing personal protective equipment, such as face masks, to drivers, instead reserving them for health and social care workers. The response on this is that the health advice apparently does not support it. If the evidence says that masks will not save them, gloves will not save them and banning the handling of cash will not save them, that begs the question: what will save them, given that transport workers, including bus drivers, are more likely to die from covid-19 than the general population? Can that evidence be provided to the House of Commons Library so that it can be properly looked at and investigated? We cannot allow transport workers on the frontline, working to keep our country moving, to face a greater risk than the general population.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I start by welcoming the shadow Secretary of State to his position. It continues to be Public Health England advice that face masks are not necessary outside clinical settings or where Health and Safety Executive employer risk assessments suggest that it would be necessary to protect against non-covid-19 risks. However, workers should refer to the guidance, which I mentioned, when considering whether wearing a face covering would be appropriate and they should consider using a face covering when social distancing is not possible.