At least eleven London bus workers have now died after contracting Covid-19, with tens of thousands more transport workers terrified of the same fate.
Richard, a driver at Holloway bus garage in north London said, “It’s very scary to be a bus driver right now”.
A key demand from bus workers is that the front doors to each bus are sealed, meaning passengers get on the middle or back doors, reducing contract with the driver.
“I can only guess why they haven’t implemented this already—they want people to use the Oyster readers, touch on and pay a fare,” London bus driver “Q” told Socialist Worker.
“TfL is more concerned about revenue. Implementing front door only operation should be done right now, today, but they’re talking about a four-week trial.”
A limited trial run is now operating out of a single bus garage in south London. Bus drivers are demanding that it’s implemented across the capital immediately.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Q. “Every bus driver wants to take key workers for free. And why the hell not? This is a national emergency and they’re really putting their lives on the line.”
TfL and bus bosses have now agreed to pay workers from day one if they are forced to self-isolate. But last week Richard said that drivers were “forced” back to work.
Bosses threatened to pay them statutory sick pay, which is lower than the company sick pay they should be entitled to.
Q said that bosses had known that a virus outbreak has been likely for months. Yet no risk assessments have been carried out across the London bus network.
He said that the Unite union, which represents most London bus drivers, is working flat-out to make services safer for drivers and passengers. And although “the companies are doing a lot, they could be doing more.”
But Richard said Unite isn’t doing enough. “The union needs to come down to the garages and see that hand gel is not reaching us,” he said.
And Q said the threat to bus drivers remains a very real one. “I’ve got three colleagues in hospital, one is in an induced coma.
“I don’t want to lose anybody if I can help it.”
“We know what an essential job we’re doing, everybody tells me ‘I’m going to keep driving a bus because that nurse I’m driving today might be turning my ventilator on tomorrow’.”