Unite the union has vowed to escalate its campaign to introduce stricter safety measures for London buses after it emerged that Unite member Kofi Opoku, who worked for  Metrobus and was based at the Croydon garage, died from Covid-19 earlier this week.

Vulnerable drivers

The issue of bus driver safety is particularly sensitive as during the height of the pandemic earlier this year, male London bus drivers were the profession at greatest risk of dying from Covid-19, with at least 29   succumbing to the disease. 

Unite, which represents over 20,000 London bus workers, has met with both the London mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) about its continuing concerns that there needs to be a concerted effort and urgent action to further improve bus safety, in order to better protect drivers and passengers, as the virus  continues to spread.

Key concerns

Unite’s key concerns include: ensuring all screens and seals are properly installed, health and safety reps are stood down from normal duties to monitor safety in garages, and a full review and enhancement of cleaning regimes are carried out after concerns about the quality in some areas has been raised.

Other concerns include: ensuring access to toilets and hand washing facilities, full sick pay from day one for workers needing to self-isolate, a moratorium on remote sign-on and proper enforcement of face coverings and maximum loading by TfL, the police and marshals.

Both the Mayor and TfL have the power and the authority to ensure that all London bus operators comply with these safety measures.

Terrible human cost 

Unite lead officer for London buses John Murphy said: “The death of Kofi Opoku is a terrible reminder of the horrible human cost of Covid-19. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.

“With infection rates rising swiftly and the knowledge we have gained from the first wave, it is absolutely essential that all these safety measures are introduced to protect bus drivers and their passengers.

“During the first lockdown London bus drivers played a vital role in keeping the capital moving and for that too many paid the ultimate price.

“Significant safety procedures have been already introduced, but action needs to be taken to reinforce those measures.

“It is distressing that some bus operators seem to be more concerned about the financial cost of some of these vital measures. Exactly what value are they placing on a human life?

“We simply do not have time on our side. We need these measures to be introduced immediately to reduce the risk of infections and to save lives.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

 The full list of safety issues that Unite believes needs to be addressed is as follows:

  • Driver checks identifying defective seals on cabs to be acted upon immediately. No bus with a damaged seal to be used in service. A full audit of where permanent sealing has been fitted and rapid progress to completion across the fleet.
  • Return of the full-time stand down of union health and safety reps to ensure all measures and safe working practices are in place
  • Documented weekly garage inspections
  • Documented weekly health and safety meetings between union and management
  • Pan-London health and safety committee (Tripartite) to ensure ‘best practice’ is exercised across the network
  • Review and enhancement of all cleaning regimes. All contractors to audit training of personnel and the monitoring and maintenance of standards – this has slipped dramatically in some locations
  • All TfL driver facilities to be regularly and thoroughly cleaned – there are too many instances of seriously sub-standard conditions
  • Access to toilet and hand washing facilities which have been formally agreed (eg LUL and hospitals) to be accessible at all times. This will require TfL audit and action
  • Temperature testing for all bus workers reporting for duty
  • Reporting of positive testing to Unite and consistent procedures to be followed
  • Full sick pay from day one for those needing to self-isolate (as during first wave)
  • Moratorium on ‘remote sign-on’ operating procedures, where drivers do not start their duty at the garage but at an outside location – meaning no checks to ensure the driver is fit, no access to toilet and canteen facilities, waiting in all weathers for their bus to arrive, greater risk of exposure to Covid-19 travelling on a service bus to a location unlikely to have been Risk-assessed
  • Enforcement of face coverings on buses and maximum loading numbers – by TfL enforcement, police and marshalls

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.