Bus workers are among those who have lost their lives in the coronavirus pandemic at the highest rates –a total of 33 bus workers in London alone have succumbed to the virus since the pandemic began.
Figures from the Office for National statistics (ONS) last month found that 26 per 100,000 male bus and coach workers died after contracting Covid-19, compared to an average of 9.9 per 100,000 for males across professions.
These alarm statistics highlighted the need for the highest health and safety standards on London buses in particular. Unite secured a number of safety measures, including the closure of front doors, which was seen as vital step in protecting bus workers from Covid-19 while a strategy for completely sealing cabs was developed.
Other measures won by Unite lobbying included deep cleaning of buses; additional cleaning of touch points; the sealing of screens around the driver; the provision of hand sanitizer for all; as well as placing the passenger seating closest to the driver out of bounds, among others.
Now, as the lockdown eases, and the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths in London has substantially decreased, Unite has given qualified support to Transport for London (TfL)’s announcement that there will be a phased return of front door entry on London buses starting from Saturday (May 30).
But the union has emphasised that this can only happen on buses that have been fitted with new screens that completely seal the driver in the cab. The new screens, which seal all the gaps in the cab, have been developed in conjunction with experts at University College of London. There will also be in place a rigorous cleaning process, which will use hospital-grade anti-viral disinfectant on cabs and all areas regularly touched, such as handrails.
To ensure public and worker confidence, Unite shop stewards and safety reps will inspect and clear each bus before front door loading is re-introduced. It is understood that about 124 bus routes will resume front-door loading from tomorrow.
Capacity on London buses will also be limited to 20 on double decker buses and 6 to 10 on single decker buses, with allowances made for families and household groups travelling together at drivers’ discretion. Crucially, the seating exclusion zone around the driver will remain in place.
Unite officer for London buses John Murphy said that the safety of London bus drivers and workers was “absolutely crucial”.
“Bus workers have tragically lost their lives during this pandemic and our determination is to make sure that no other family endures this heartache,” he noted.
“Unite has been working closely with experts at UCL, TfL and London bus operators to ensure that the return to front door loading does not adversely affect driver safety.
“We want to make it clear to the workforce and the travelling public that the return to front door loading will be gradually phased in with no vehicle opening its front door until it has been thoroughly checked by a Unite representative,” Murphy went on to say.
“The reduction in the maximum capacity on buses is an important safety measure that Unite has been calling for because it protects passengers by helping to ensure they can socially distance.
“Unite will continue to lobby and work with employers and TfL to ensure that all bus workers are full protected at work, and that passengers and the wider public are cared for.”
By Hajera Blagg