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Compulsory facemasks and temperature checks - unions want changes to public transport as part of return to 'normal'

The National Bus and Rail Union wants a number of measures introduced to guarantee worker welfare.

Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

TRANSPORT UNIONS WANT all public transport passengers to wear a facemask and all frontline transport staff to have their temperatures checked with a laser thermometer prior to them starting their shifts to help deal with coronavirus. 

Correspondence seen by TheJournal.ie shows that the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) wants a series of measures introduced to guarantee the safety of the nation’s transport workers. 

As things stand, social distancing measures are being employed on public transport links. Disinfection areas are also dotted around some stations. 

However, the NBRU said it is looking for additional measures to be put in place as Ireland begins to emerge from total lockdown. 

The additional measures sought by the union are: 

  • Compulsory wearing of face (barrier) masks for all commuters to ensure maximum
    protection of frontline staff and enhance customer confidence.
  • All frontline transport workers that are required, as part of their duty, to interact with commuters should have their temperature checked as they arrive for work using a laser thermometer.
  • Workers who register a high temperature would then be provided with immediate
    assistance to access a Covid-19 test.

The NBRU said that a worker with a high temperature should be sent home without loss of pay and that the waiting period for test results should not see the worker concerned about suffering any loss of earnings. 

Other issues which the transport union want adhered to as the country reopens include the additional daily disinfection of all the fleet, automatic ‘no-touch’ gel dispenser units in all service access locations and the immediate reintroduction of Monday to Friday schedules to increase capacity.

The letter sent to all transport bosses notes the concern of staff working on public transport that serves the airports.

“It is widely acknowledged that other countries are at different stages with the evolvement of easement measures,” the letter says. “This is causing concern for frontline public transport staff that serve our airports, therefore special measures (vetting personnel) will have to be implemented to ensure potential virus carriers are not travelling on public transport services that serve our airports.

The NBRU remains of the view (one shared by colleagues) that public transport workers should be directly represented as a pivotal stakeholder in the decision-making process involved in ensuring the continuation of our public transport services at this crucial period in our country’s history.

Protective masks are being sourced by CIE, the government body responsible for public transport, and it is hoped they will be available to all transport workers by the middle of this month. 

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In response to the NBRU’s proposals regarding masks and their future use in the public transport sector, a letter sent by Irish Rail to the NBRU said it is setting up a contingency plan should the government decide that masks are compulsory. 

To this end, our contingency planning is considering the possibility of protective face masks being more generally used in workplaces and in wider society. I would stress that there has been no indication to us to date from our health authorities that this will be part of future measures but – as you describe – we are also monitoring the type of measures which have been taken elsewhere in responding to similar scenarios.

Earlier today, Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry called on the Minister for Transport to provide emergency supports for public transport companies during the current crisis.

He said that, as things stand, the nation’s public transport system has continued to operate but revenue streams have effectively disappeared.

Some estimates, he said, show that demand for public transport services has reduced by 90%. 

“Public transport plays a vital role and users are made up of students, workers, free travel pass holders, and tourists to name but a few. With public health guidelines the only people using public transport services now are essential workers and those on essential journeys.”

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