In any plans to return to work Unite cautioned today (May 4) that an increase in the number of bus services must be gradually implemented – and that maintaining safety and retaining confidence must be paramount.
Unite made its views known following reports that transport secretary Grant Shapps has said that more buses and trains would run as part of a return to work.
Unite supports an increase in bus journeys providing certain conditions are met. These are: that the confidence of both workers and passengers is maintained; risk assessments are undertaken and fully applied; and that social distancing measures to protect drivers are kept. Unite is in regular discussions with the government on these issues.
In particular, Unite is most concerned that as passenger numbers increase, buses that have been out of service since the beginning of the lockdown will be brought back in to use.
Unite has stipulated that before this occurs the full social distancing measures, such as drivers’ protective screens being sealed, seats around the driver being cordoned off and additional measures put in place to ensure drivers do not have to handle cash, are implemented.
A further challenge is that in many areas, particularly London – which has seen the tragic deaths of 29 bus workers – is that large numbers of transport workers are currently off sick, isolating or have been furloughed. An increase in services would have to reflect the availability of drivers.
Unite is also concerned about overcrowding of buses, especially when entering and exiting, which is an issue in all major cities. The union believes that strict rules on maximum loading needs to be introduced and that where front doors have been closed they should not reopen until further measures are introduced to protect drivers.
Unite is also aware that overcrowding on buses will need to be policed in some way – but that must not involve the driver being forced to leave their cab.
It believes the government must properly utilise purpose-built black cabs (hackney carriages) in its transport plans too – as they are constructed in such a way that social distancing can be maintained at all times.
“Unite recognises the importance of increasing bus services as more workers return to work,” said Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland.
“The increase in services must be underpinned by safety and maintaining the confidence of bus workers and passengers at all times. Unite is in regular discussions with the government on these issues.
“It must also be recognised that a considerable number of drivers cannot currently work and that this should not result in the remaining drivers being required to undertake excessive hours, which risk their health and safety.
“The safety and social distancing measures that have been put in place since the Covid-19 crisis began must apply to all buses being brought back into service.
“The government should remember and fully utilise taxis in the return to work. Purpose-built hackney carriages are designed for social distancing and they should play a full role in helping workers to return to work,” she added.
Unite represents over 80,000 bus workers throughout the UK.
By Barckley Sumner