Gosport disability campaigner says back the RMT strike - proposed changes would have ‘huge impact’ on disabled commuters already struggling with public transport access

A GOSPORT disability activist and campaigner is calling for people to show their support for the ongoing rail strikes - saying that the proposed changes will have a ‘huge’ negative impact on disabled people’s access to public transport.

Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 3:10 pm

Kirsty Smillie, who works for the Disability Union as a strategic development officer, is keen to address misconceptions about the RMT train strike - and wants people to think about how staff cuts and pay cuts will affect disabled commuters.

The mum-of-three said: ‘The RMT says rail operators are seeking to bring in job cuts which could include compulsory redundancies.

‘The union argues these job cuts would have safety implications on the rail network.

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Kirsty Smillie with her daughter Maisy.

‘The impact of the job losses will impact commuters. For example if stations and ticket offices are all computerised with no staff or very little actual human beings, who will assist disabled people or those needing assistance?’

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She believes that staff cuts would have a ‘huge impact’ on disabled people’s access to public transport, and said: ‘The obstacles disabled people face trying to use public transport are huge, and this is just further excluding people from using the trains.

‘I work with hundreds of members of a Disability Union and they constantly tell us about the challenges they face.

Kirsty with her son Brody.

‘They are really concerned about this - how are they going to get to work on time? To use a ramp, you need to find someone on the platform to help you.

‘We are supporting the RMT strike because we feel that you can’t replace human beings when it comes to accessibility and assistance.’

The 40,000 staff expected to take part in the strike includes signallers, signallers, maintenance workers, ticket collectors, and cleaners, but train drivers are for the most part not included in this dispute as ASLEF is the union that represents most drivers.

Kirsty said: ‘We have all used the self scanners at Asda, how many times have you had to call a member of staff over for assistance when things won't scan?

‘What happens when you are rushing for a train and there's one person to assist hundreds of commuters?

‘If the amount of signallers are reduced what happens when the computerised technology fails? Delays and accidents.

‘Sack the cleaners - filthy trains, obstructions that may restrict access for those that use mobility aids, or obstructions that could result in accidents for blind people.

‘Less maintenance workers means delayed maintenance and disruption for commuters.’

The RMT says operators and Network Rail are proposing new pay rates that do not rise in line with inflation.

Kirsty said: ‘That, in real terms, means a pay cut, as their salaries are worth less than before. ‘The union says staff have not had a pay rise over two years despite working throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

‘No one wants to strike; it is a measure of last resort when they are not getting their voices heard by their employer.

‘Those workers are on strike for very good reasons and will not get paid whilst on strike.

‘It is a very bold and selfless act especially in the current economic climate in which we are all struggling with the cost of living.’