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Flowers – and ‘PPE now’ banners – as unions mourn colleagues killed by virus

Gathering outside Holloway Bus Garage calls on Mayor of London to protect transport workers after shock deaths during outbreak

17 April, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

A demonstrator calling for more protective kit for transport workers

UNION members gathered outside Holloway Bus Garage yesterday (Thursday) to mourn the deaths of at least 26 transport workers from the coronavirus – and then called on the Mayor of London to do more to protect staff.

Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) have come under fire over the conditions that bus drivers are facing in the capital, and questions have been asked over how far pledges to deep clean vehicles have been put into practice.

Although timetables have been reduced, transport staff on the network are still involved in getting medical staff and key workers to where they need to be during the crisis.

Flowers and a memorial banner outside the depot

Yesterday (Thursday) members of the RMT, TUC and Unite joined others to lay flowers one at a time outside the entrance of the depot, while sticking to social distancing rules.

There were placards and banners too, mainly with a message for the Mayor. One said: “PPE now Sadiq” and “Stand with our NHS workers.”

The bus drivers who have so far died after contracting coronavirus, include Emeka Nyack-Ihenacho, 36, from Dartmouth Park, a popular former postal worker who drove passengers on the No 4 route. He had worked out of the garage in Holloway.

A London Underground RMT rep, who asked not to be named, said he was “hoping and praying” the death toll among bus drivers would not soon be similar among tube staff.

“I’m a fellow key worker working on the underground and I’m aware of how many drivers have died,” he said.

“We are here to pay our respects. The issue of PPE is really important. There’s an argument going on over whether or not transport workers need more PPE. The fact is they do. The high death toll on the buses indicated that that is the case.”

He added: “The scale of this is really quite shocking. More than two dozen TfL workers have fallen victim to coronavirus. It puts the question of PPE and the safety of our workers in sharp relief.”

The protest comes after the Tribune revealed footage last week of the conditions bus drivers are still finding at work, despite an “enhanced cleaning” pledge by Mr Khan.

Highbury bus driver Robert Murphy, 37, who shot the footage, said cleaning practices had not changed since the outbreak.

In the video, Mr Murphy challenged Sadiq Khan to take action.

“This is a response to the deep-cleaning programme we seem to be having on all London buses, but you can see the marks, the coffee stains, whatever else they might be,” he says in the film, available to watch on our website.

As he films more ‘saliva’ stains, he adds: “So, Sadiq Khan, if you want to respond to that… why our buses are piss dirty? Any response would be great.”

Unite the Union has called the lack of protection and evidence of poor cleaning standards “unacceptable”.
Mike Brown, London’s Transport Commissioner, said: “I am utterly devastated that some of our colleagues have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It is an absolute tragedy and I can’t imagine the pain and suffering that their families and friends are going through. My thoughts and condolences are with them all, and we are doing everything we can to provide support.

“Their safety is our absolute priority and we will continue doing all that we can to protect them and our customers. We have enhanced our cleaning regime with stronger anti-viral products, provided access to hand sanitiser to staff and introduced a range of social distancing measures.”

He added: “I cannot stress enough how important it is for the public to continue to stay at home if they’re not critical workers. This will save lives.”

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