Socialist Worker

‘It feels like we’re sleepwalking into the slaughterhouse’ - bus drivers speak out

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2701

Supporters joined a minutes silence called by the Unite union on Friday for bus worker who have died

Supporters joined a minute's silence called by the Unite union on Friday for bus worker who have died (Pic: Gail Cartmail)


Bus workers are speaking out about their “fear and anger” as transport bosses move too slowly in protecting their safety. 

London bus driver Trevor said, “It’s a life and death situation here. Not everyone’s immune system is going to be able to hack it—some will come out of it and some won’t.”

With at least 15 bus drivers in the capital dying after testing positive for Covid-19, workers live in fear every day of catching it, or passing it on. 

“There’s a lot of drivers who live with and look after their elderly parents—they’re really worried they’re going out to work, catching the virus, going home and infecting other people,” said Trevor. 

Trevor told Socialist Worker he knew some drivers were living in their garden sheds to avoid passing on infection to their family members. 

“They have their food dropped off there—but they have to go into the house to take a shower. But they’re more worried about their wives and kids.”

Transport bosses announced on Friday that buses in London would change how they operate, and reduce contact between drivers and passengers.

Transport for London (TfL) said that from Monday of next week, all buses in the capital will have the front doors sealed off, and people will board the service from the middle or back doors. 

TfL bosses have been reluctant to rollout the changes as they will collect less money from Oyster fares.

The move comes after weeks of pressure from transport workers.

Jeff is a driver operating out of Stamford Hill bus garage in north London who spoke to Socialist Worker before TfL’s rule change.

He explained he had been taping off the front door of his bus in a desperate attempt to keep himself safe 

“It feels like we’re sleepwalking into the slaughterhouse—a lot of people are scared.”

“It’s all about the companies making a profit, and that comes before our health. There’s a lot of games being played and it comes at the cost of drivers lives,” he said. 

Many drivers think that TfL kept the front doors open because it didn’t want to lose out on fare revenue, and companies don’t want to stump up the cash for proper cleaning of buses. 

Trade unionists in north London demand protection for bus drivers
Trade unionists in north London demand protection for bus drivers
  Read More

“Companies need to do much more—they’ve got to wake up and realise there’s a pandemic on our doorstep, it’s here now and it’s killing people,” said Jeff. 

“They’re not taking it seriously because it’s going to cost them money—but one bus driver's life is priceless, any human being’s life is,” he added.

Unprepared

On the same day as Friday’s doors announcement, London mayor Sadiq Khan called on the government to make wearing masks compulsory on transport. 

Khan said that, “The evidence around the world is that this is effective”. 

But workers say they haven’t had access to basic personal protective equipment (PPE) that would help keep them safe. 

“From day one, we’ve been asking for PPE. It’s dangerous on buses—it’s a close environment and the virus travels even further,” said Jeff. 

And Trevor said workers were left dangerously unprepared for their working day. 

“The only thing we’ve got is the blue gloves, and I don’t think they are PPE-approved, they’re like gloves that mechanics wear to stop their hands getting dirty.

“We also need to get someone into disinfect the buses on a daily basis and the companies are failing to do that,” he said. 

Trevor called on TfL to implement random inspections on garages to ensure that company bosses were complying with safety regulations. 

“Then if companies don’t follow through, they should penalise them,” he said. 

And many workers are furious at a Tory government that was slow to act over mass testing, social distancing measures and providing PPE. 

“Boris Johnson is directly responsible and should be held accountable for these deaths. He chose to carry on as though nothing was happening,” said Jeff.

“When Johnson said we’d ‘lose loved ones’, I thought ‘well do something about it’. We’ve been pushed to accept these deaths."

Workers' names have been changed

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