International Workers’ Memorial Day today (April 28) will hit hard for many key workers like bus workers, who’ve risked their lives transporting other essential workers like NHS staff to and from work.
Already more than 20 bus workers have died from coronavirus in London alone, with the death toll outside the capital climbing too.
Today bus workers in London and across the UK observed a minute’s silence at 11am to honour their colleagues who have paid the ultimate price – often without the adequate protective kit and safety measures they so desperately needed.
Mustafa, who is a Unite convenor at Camberwell garage in London, spoke to UniteLIVE this morning and said all bus drivers were given the opportunity today to participate, whether they were in depots for breaks or not.
“For those bus drivers out on the road, controllers alerted bus drivers a few minutes before 11 so that they could stop at their nearest bus stop and observe the minute’s silence,” he explained.
Mustafa said that there was a lot of anxiety among bus driver colleagues as they continue to work through the epidemic.
“Tensions are high amid this crisis after we’ve lost so many members, especially given the shortage of PPE at the beginning of the crisis. There’s a sense of anger that these deaths could have been prevented. I myself was very close friends with one bus driver in Battersea who died – it’s really hit us all hard.”
He highlighted the many health and safety measures Unite has secured with TfL and the bus companies, from hand sanitiser provision to regular cleaning of the buses and the closure of front doors so that passengers don’t come into contact with drivers, among many other measures.
While he and other bus workers have welcomed such action on health and safety, Mustafa urged the bus companies to continue to make safety a top priority.
“We need to continue to be vigilant and take every step we can to make sure all bus workers are safe amid this crisis by increasing hygiene and strengthening the measures we do have in place – we cannot simply rest on laurels and think ‘job done’,” he said. “We do not want to lose any more of our brothers and sisters.”
Nothing can now bring back the lives of those members in their bus family that they have lost, but Mustafa told UniteLIVE that they must get the recognition they deserve.
“Bus workers have sacrificed their lives to help others,” he said. “It is important to highlight that, just like NHS workers, they put their lives on the line at a time of crisis – we are the ones who are transporting NHS staff to hospitals so we are very much part of the national effort to save lives. The government must do all it can to honour these lives lost.”
Mustafa welcomed the news that the families of NHS and social care workers who have lost their lives amid the crisis will receive state compensation of £60,000 – and added this should be me extended to bus and other transport workers too.
“This is one important way that the state can recognise fallen bus workers’ sacrifices, by providing for their bereaved families,” he said. “It is my hope that the government reviews compensation to include all key workers.”
And this is precisely what Unite will be lobbying for now.
Commenting, Unite regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh said, “We would like to see this £60,000 grant to the families of those that have died in the NHS and social care settings extended to the families of bus drivers and other employees of TfL, as they are also key workers in the frontline in the battle against the coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, we have lost far too many members of the London bus ‘family’ – and their relatives and dependents need maximum support to help them rebuild their lives,” he added.
“There is also a further question whether a lump sum of £60,000 is enough to replace the lost lifetime earnings of a worker who has succumbed to Covid-19 – we believe it is not enough and that the government should build financially on this welcome first step.
“Consideration by ministers also needs to be given other key workers across the UK, such as those employed by supermarkets and local councils, who are also under threat as they perform their vital duties in keeping the country running as smoothly as possible during this national emergency.”
Mustafa had one final message on International Workers’ Memorial Day.
“My condolences go out to all the friends and families of those who have lost loved ones in this crisis,” he said. “We must continue to make health and safety a top priority for all workers – so that no one has to go through the pain and suffering that so many already have.”