UNITE regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh told News Line yesterday: ‘We would like to see this £60,000 grant to the families of those that have died in the NHS and social care settings extended to the families of bus drivers and other employees of TfL, as they are also key workers in the frontline in the battle against the coronavirus.
‘Unfortunately, we have lost far too many members of the London bus “family” – and their relatives and dependents need maximum support to help them rebuild their lives.
‘There is also a further question whether a lump sum of £60,000 is enough to replace the lost lifetime earnings of a worker who has succumbed to Covid-19 – we believe it is not enough and that the government should build financially on this welcome first step.
‘Consideration by ministers also needs to be given other key workers across the UK, such as those employed by supermarkets and local councils, who are also under threat as they perform their vital duties in keeping the country running as smoothly as possible during this national emergency.’
Meanwhile, Leshie Chandrapala, who lost her father Ranjith nearly a year ago, said the past 12 months have been incredibly hard.
He was 64 when he died on 3 May, having been a driver on the 92 bus route which serves Ealing Hospital.
It was a job he loved doing, but when the pandemic began last March, he was not given any personal protective equipment (PPE).
Leshie wants a public inquiry into bus driver deaths to find out why even basic safety precautions took so long to introduce.
‘It’s incredibly raw,’ she said. ‘The more I read about measures that were or weren’t taken, I just have so many questions that have been left unanswered.’
As of 15 March 2021, the number of bus worker deaths in London is 65. Fifty-one of them were drivers.
‘Bus drivers were told they didn’t need PPE at the start of the pandemic and we need to know why that was, why lives like my dad’s weren’t thought valuable enough,’ said Leshie.
‘I think dad could be still with us if he had been given the proper PPE and the cabs had been secured properly, and had the public been boarding from the back and had lockdown happened earlier.’
Bus drivers are not included in the assurance scheme that pays £60,000 to families of health and social care workers if they die.
A preliminary report published in July by the Institute of Health Equality at University College London, which was commissioned by City Hall, showed that between March and May 2020, the mortality rate in male bus drivers was 3.5 times higher than men of the same age in other occupations.
Leshie Chandrapala’s father, like many other key workers, was keen to help London as Covid hit.
She believes the families of drivers who died ‘deserve answers’ and has vowed to fight on to get them.
‘He signed up to be a bus driver, he was incredibly proud to be one, to help the city during the pandemic and do his bit, but he did not sign up to give his life.’
Hounslow Heath Bus Garage Unite rep David Cox told News Line yesterday: ‘It is at least 50 or 60 bus drivers who have died from Covid and their families should certainly receive this grant.
‘Throughout the pandemic our members have been facing the public and dealing with Covid every day.’
London Buses Senior Unite Rep, Hashi Jarma, told News Line: ‘This is something that Unite has been calling for since May last year. We are key workers who have been exposed to high risk. In fact, we are the worst hit industry from coronavirus and our job is riskier than any other apart from in the NHS.’