Unite has demanded greater safety protections for bus workers after it emerged on Sunday (April 5) that at least five London bus workers have died after contracting coronavirus.
It is understood that three of the bus workers who died were drivers and two were controllers.
More bus worker deaths outside the capital have been reported, including one in Bristol.
Safety measures must go ‘further and faster’
The shocking news has underscored the risks that bus workers in London and across the UK take each and every day as they transport essential workers such as NHS staff, care workers and shop workers to and from work.
Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said that each of the deaths is “a terrible tragedy and the thoughts of everyone at Unite goes to the families of the bus workers who have died of coronavirus”.
“Unite will assist the families of our members in every possible way during this terrible time,” he added.
Kavanagh went on to say that Unite has been working continuously with Transport for London (TfL) and all of the capital’s bus operators to “ensure the safety of drivers and others in the industry who are performing a heroic job in getting NHS and care workers to their places of work”.
While a number of health and safety measures have been taken on London buses amid the coronavirus epidemic, including deep cleaning of buses; additional cleaning of touch points; the sealing of screens around the driver; the provision of hand sanitizer for all; and placing the passenger seating closest to the driver out of bounds, Unite has said more must be done with urgency.
Speaking to LBC’s Andrew Castle on Sunday (April 5), Kavanagh highlighted just how absolutely essential bus drivers are to the national effort at a time of crisis.
“Bus drivers continue to come to work – and they do that because they understand it is essential that nurses, care workers, supermarket workers and delivery drivers need to get to their places of work to carry out the essential work that they’re doing for their communities. But they need to know that in doing so, that everything is being done to ensure their own safety.”
Kavanagh highlighted the safety measures already being taken but added that the bus companies and TfL need to go “further and faster” and noted that Unite was in daily discussions with the bus operators to enhance safety measures.
Bristol bus worker dies
Meanwhile, in Bristol, Unite reported the tragic death of Unite member and bus worker Martin Egan, who died after contracting coronavirus. He had worked for First Group in Bristol for 40 years.
Unite regional secretary for the south west Steve Preddy paid tribute to Egan, who he said was “a dedicated and long-serving member of the Unite Bristol bus ‘family’. We offer sympathy and support to his relatives at this heart-breaking time for them”.
Preddy noted that Unite’s “highest motivation as a union is the health safety and well-being of all workers and our communities”.
Following Unite’s strong representations, First Group in Bristol has now introduced a raft of safety measures, including the daily availability of gloves, sterilising solution, and face masks; screens on buses completely sealed to protect drivers and social distancing for seating on buses.
“The government must do more to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and guarantee a safe working environment for all essential workers, of which bus drivers are a key category,” he added.
Stay home plea
Unite has warned that the public heeding government guidelines – and only using public transport when essential – will be absolutely key in protecting bus workers and other transport staff.
London mayor Sadiq Khan reiterated this message.
“I have been clear that our incredible public transport staff, on the buses, tubes, trams and trains, are critical workers, making a heroic effort to allow our NHS staff to save more lives,” he said.
“But we all need to play our part too and that means fewer Londoners using the public transport network. Please follow the rules. Stay at home and do not use public transport unless it is absolutely unavoidable.”
Bus workers themselves took to social media to plead that the public to stay at home and only use public transport if they are essential workers or in an absolute emergency as outlined in government guidance.
— Unite London & Eastern (@UniteLondonEast) April 6, 2020
Unite member and London bus driver Moe also expressed fears over non-essential use of public transport.
“Bus workers don’t feel they are protected enough,” he told Sky News. “Passengers are using buses when they are not supposed to, you get young people, children, people going on picnics – when it should only be essential travel.
“The uncertainty has been increased with the news of the bus workers who have died.”
Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said that health and safety for bus drivers must be at the very top of the agenda.
“The tragic and sad death of bus workers in London and Bristol reinforces the message for the need for the most stringent hygiene regime throughout the UK bus sector,” he said.
“Bus workers are in the key worker category helping keep the UK’s transport arteries open at this time of national emergency. Our officers are working ceaselessly to ensure that their working environments are the safest humanly possible.”
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