A survey of members of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) carried out earlier this week found that fewer than 1% of commuters on Monday were wearing face masks and that by Tuesday social distancing guidelines were being ignored.
NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary told the Pat Kenny show on Newstalk that face masks were a cause of great concern as was the lack of protective screens for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann drivers.
Mr O’Leary pointed out that at one stage the advisory group to the government had said that face masks should be worn on public transport, but that had changed because Nphet was concerned that medical grade masks would be “sucked up” by the general population.
"It was insulting that unions representing those working on public transport were not “at the table” in the debate on safety," he said.
“To be honest with you, that's not our role. Whatever happens in industrial relations when there's disputes around pay and the likes, that's one thing. But when it comes to public health and the safety of people who both use the service and work in the service, that's an issue that we should be discussing with our expertise entering into the debate - and we shouldn't be waiting for people to hand down diktats to us.”
"Policing the wearing of masks could be a problem," he acknowledged.
“One of the other concerns we have in the NBRU, and transport workers generally would have, is that the Return to Work Protocol issued last week did not in any way cover transport.”
Policy needs to be very clear on social distancing, added Mr O’Leary.
“We need to find some measures to restore confidence in people and instil confidence in people to use public transport. But we can't do that unless we have strict policy and guidelines - and indeed mandatory rules on face masks or face coverings in place.”
A balance needs to be struck between the return to some sort of normal economic activity and the ability to get people from A to B, he said.
“Certainly in terms of the general point about people travelling in enclosed spaces, you can't have one rule for airlines and a different rule for buses and trains. There needs to be that debate.”