A train company which issued discriminatory guidance to its station staff should be stripped of its rail franchise, say disabled trade unionists.
The TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference in Bournemouth – attended by representatives of 22 unions – heard from a string of delegates who were furious at the guidance and called for action to be taken against Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).
They voted unanimously for a motion calling for GTR to be stripped of its franchise.
The company – which runs Southern (pictured), Thameslink, Gatwick Express and Great Northern – caused a storm of protest last week after it issued guidance telling station staff that they should not attempt to place “persons of reduced mobility (PRM)” on a train “if there is a possibility of delaying the service”.
The company was also criticised for telling staff that “ill passengers need to be removed from the train as quickly as possible” because “not taking action will cause thousands of other passengers to be stuck on trains”.
Dave Allan, from the union Unite, who proposed the emergency motion to remove GTR’s franchise, told the conference that a company that would “treat disabled passengers with such contempt” was “not worth having as a franchise delivering public transport in this country”.
And he drew loud applause when he warned GTR that if it tried to ignore the concerns, disabled activists would “make it so impossible for them to run their timetable… they will rue the day they even thought about it”.
He said the guidance was “absolutely disgraceful” and “only about driving up the profits of their company”.
And he said disabled people supported the aim of increasing the number of rush hour trains, “but not at our expense”.
Allan said: “We are not going to have our members driven back into the guards’ cart where they were 15 or 20 years ago.
“We as a disability movement must put a stop to this or other companies will follow it.”
The emergency motion said the GTR guidance was clearly “instructing staff to act illegally and discriminate against disabled travellers”.
And it said that automation and de-staffing in the rail system meant disabled people’s needs were being “overlooked and ignored, causing immense hardship, making travelling stressful, dangerous and a negative experience”.
Ann Galpin, from NUJ, the journalists’ union, told the conference: “This particular transgression is against all our rights under the Equality Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“It is a deplorable reflection on society that such a policy can be considered, let alone be implemented.”
Chris Gilbert, from the National Education Union, who uses Southern services in south London, said the company was “trying to justify discrimination towards disabled people.
“It is just one more example of its contempt for passengers, as well as disregarding its disabled people’s protection policy.
“It seems they are trying to put some of the blame on disabled people by trying to implement this policy.”
Steve Conway, from the transport union RMT, told the conference that the GTR guidance was “solely profit-motivated” and showed the “contempt” shown by rail companies for passengers.
Proposing a motion that supported the campaign to save guards on trains and disabled people’s right not to be discriminated against by train companies – which was also carried unanimously – he said the guidance was a clear breach of the Equality Act and “just another part of the attack on disabled people by this Tory government”.
Ceri Wright, from Unite, who seconded the RMT motion, said that forcing disabled people who need assistance to travel by train to book their journeys in advance “is of course discrimination and is of course illegal”.
She said the GTR guidance made her “apoplectic” and was “purely about penny-pinching”.
She said it was fed by “the ideology of the Conservative government that wants to drag disabled people back into a Dickensian nightmare world where we are institutionalised… and we will not stand for it.”
Following last week’s criticism, GTR has issued a statement saying that the wording of the guidance “could have been better expressed” and “has already been revised”.
But GTR has refused to release the new version of the guidance.