Paul Ainsworth, a London bus driver and Unite delegate to Labour’s conference has a powerful story to tell.
Throughout the pandemic bus drivers kept on working taking staff to hospitals, to supermarkets keeping the city moving. Their only protection a strip of black and yellow tape – tape reminiscent of a crime scene.
Anyone who caught a bus at the beginning would have seen how exposed they were. The Perspex shield then in use had holes in them, and was next to useless.
Driving a London bus was one of the most dangerous jobs to do.
University College Hospital in a report for Transport for London found that if you were a bus driver you were three times more likely to have Covid-19 than any other workers.
Over 50 bus drivers in London have died during the pandemic. Unite kept up the pressure for changes to be made that would provide protection. Importantly face masks for passengers was made compulsory.
And despite being a key worker on the front line working from the beginning, bus company bosses are coming up with schemes that would cut their wages and contravene health and safety measures.
One such scheme is for bus drivers to sign on remotely.
Now that may sound attractive – standing outside their front door or just down the road and signing on the reality is different.
Remote-sign on means wages will be reduced by over seven per cent as travel time between the garage and hand over point is cut. If they were lucky enough to work in the vicinity the working day is increased.
And it doesn’t take a genius to know that during a pandemic working remotely with nobody at the change-over to make sure a driver is fit and capable of to drive the bus is dangerous.
As Paul has said, ‘we are on our own.’
With government cuts and the strings attached coming up, further job losses, fare rises, job insecurity are all on the horizon. Last year over half the workforce had real terms pay cuts.
Despite its effectiveness the government has scrapped the law on face masks along with all Covid-19 rules and guidelines. Now we are relying instead on the experiment that is ‘herd immunity’.
Transport workers are key workers and Unite will defend them to the hilt on jobs, pay and conditions. Unless ‘remote working’ is dropped there will be a ballot for a London wide bus strike this winter.
Bosses may think that working remotely will cut solidarity but even though Paul has Long Covid, he is determined that workers will stand together.
By Joy Johnson