So staff assaults on London Underground are up by 44%? Whilst I’m glad that this is making the headlines, my initial thought was, well, it’s only going to get worse. And that’s the worst part. My first thought, your first thought, everyone’s first thought should be of shock or disbelief that anyone should have to go to work and face the threat of assault. But that’s what we do every day and it is so common, it is expected.
The figures, highlighted by London Assembly member, Val Shawcross, show that between 2009/10 and 2013/14, assaults on Underground staff shot up from 1,917 to 2,753, whilst over the same period, frontline staff were cut by over 7,800. This proves that less staff means more assaults, something that the RMT Union have been saying for years. With the latest plans to cut almost 900 more jobs, how many more of us are expected to put up with abuse as part and parcel our job?
The BBC reported that the rise may partly be due to increased reporting of assaults and whilst I don’t disagree with this, I don’t think it paints a clear picture of life for Tube staff either. Verbal assaults are a daily occurrence. I do not know of a single member of station staff who has not been sworn at by a passenger. Yet the figures that have been published, do not represent what our staff know to be a reality. For some reason these types of incidents are under reported. I’ve got to say that officially the company encourage us to report all incidences of assault, but largely there is a culture of not reporting ‘minor’ incidents. I’ve been guilty of it myself, I must admit. Really, what is the point of reporting something that happens so often, but doesn’t seem to be taken seriously? Staff know that often they won’t get the support of their own manager when reporting abuse, the chances of catching the offender and gaining a conviction are slim and if you moan too much you’ll only end up being branded a trouble maker. And of course, everyone will react differently to an incident. One person’s minor verbal assault could be shattering for someone else.
Over time, we develop a thick skin. On top of the daily swearing, we have all been the victim of, or know colleagues who have been threatened or physically assaulted. I’m ‘lucky’ in that I’ve only been physically assaulted once. He punched me in the face because of a problem with his ticket. I was trained on how to spot potential attackers, how I should talk to them, how my body language could calm or inflame a situation. But I didn’t see it coming. The training didn’t help when I was crying and clutching my cheek on the gate line. My managers and colleagues were amazing, the incident was reported, but he was never caught. I was ‘lucky’ because the one time I was spat at, I was inside the ticket office. I was ‘lucky’ because each time someone threatened me with violence, rape or murder, they never acted on those words.
When I put on my uniform, I do not put on armour, exempting me from pain and fear. I do not invite you to make me the victim of your crime. No one goes to work wanting to be assaulted, so why must so many customer-facing workers continue to go to work expecting these things to happen. If someone were to assault me whilst I was going down the shop for some bread, people would rightly be shocked. They wouldn’t say, ‘well that’s the risk of wanting to eat bread!’
If every single verbal or physical assault that took place on London Underground was reported, do I think it would make a difference? No. I think that the Mayor is hell bent on eroding away frontline staff until he has satisfied his warped vision of ‘modernisation’. By moving staff out of ticket offices to the areas of stations where staff are most likely to be assaulted, he is exposing them to unacceptable levels of violence. More passengers + less staff = more assaults. I believe the Mayor is more interested in boosting his celebrity profile than protecting Tube staff from assault. Then we have his latest vanity project, Night Tube, which in reality will be an open invitation to crime and drunken anti-social behaviour.
Our police are already overworked and understaffed. I don’t know how they will be able to cope with the results of all-night running and savage reductions in the number of station staff. But they will be expected to. Will London Underground be paying for extra officers? How will the police have time to investigate the inevitable rise in assaults that will accompany the disgusting reduction in staff? Yet they will be blamed when they don’t catch a suspect or secure a conviction.
The truth is, there is only one person to blame for this and I think he should follow the lead of his onscreen lookalike and make a trip to The Wizard asking for a brain!