An incident at Clapham Common tube station in south London last week showed why station staff are so important. Customers smashed their way out of a train on Friday evening after panic spread that there was a fire.
Footage shared on Twitter showed terrified customers climbing out of windows to get onto the platform and struggling to open train doors. Some were quick to blame staff for their apparent lack of response.
But what people might not know is that TfL is in the process of cutting staff numbers across the network— the company wants to slash 600 positions, mainly in stations. That means fewer people to respond when incidents occur.
We don’t know the specifics of what happened at Clapham Common, but we do know that cuts are leaving station staff overstretched making stations less safe.
Staff often deal with several things at once. Recently in my station, I was in the ticket office refunding a customer whose money had been kept by a machine. Other staff were assisting passengers on platforms as we had a signal failure, so there was no one left to assist other customers who needed help.
Tube stations have what’s called “minimum numbers’”—the lowest staffing level needed to open the station safely. It’s basically to have enough staff to evacuate if needed.
Ideally you’d have more workers in order to provide a better service and to make sure workers aren’t worn out. Yet increasingly stations are being run on “minimum’ numbers” —or closing if they can’t even manage to meet these.
Thankfully there was no fire at Clapham Common. But some of us worry that it will take a disaster to make TfL reverse the cuts and to staff our stations properly.
Tube workers are resisting these cuts, not just to protect jobs and our conditions, important though that is. But we are also fighting for a public transport system that is safe and accessible.
In the RMT union we’re currently in our fourth ballot for strikes, after winning our last three ballots and holding six strikes. We need more action to stop the cuts.
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An example to other workers