Unite, representing over 20,000 London bus workers, is seeking urgent meetings with the mayor of London Sadiq Khan and senior figures at Transport for London (TfL), to argue that passengers in the capital should continue to be required to wear masks.
Unite is seeking the meetings as a result of the prime minister’s announcement (Monday 5 July) that when the remaining Covid-19 restrictions end on July 19, passengers will no longer be required to wear face masks and it will instead become a matter of ‘personal responsibility’.
The threat of bus workers being exposed to Covid-19 is especially sensitive in London due to the very high number of workers who have contracted the virus, with over 50 bus workers succumbing to the disease.
Unite has described the government’s decision to end the requirement to wear face masks as an act of “gross negligence”.
With infection rates rising rapidly and with many people who travel on London buses, such as schoolchildren, being unvaccinated, Unite believes the risk of transmission is entirely unacceptable.
Unite has helped ensure that many measures have been introduced to improve the safety of bus drivers during the pandemic, most importantly a new cab design. However, face coverings remain extremely important in reducing transmissions for passengers and bus drivers.
Despite these safety measures, drivers remain at risk as they frequently use buses to travel to work and then travel along a route to pick up the bus they are required to drive. Drivers are scared and worried about doing this on a crowded bus of passengers without face coverings.
With office-based workers being encouraged to return to the office, ridership on public transport is set to increase dramatically, however that could be stymied if passengers lose confidence in the safety of public transport because of the ending of the requirement to wear masks.
Unite regional secretary for London Pete Kavanagh said: “Unite represents thousands of workers in public transport in London. Those workers are rightly worried for their safety, following the government’s reckless announcement.
“Unite is seeking urgent meetings with Sadiq Khan and the senior figures at Transport for London to argue that the rules on wearing face masks must continue in London at least while cases of Covid continue to grow. Unite believes that it is taking a socially responsible approach.
“Mandatory face masking protects drivers and passengers from the transmission of Covid, it is a basic safety measure and it should be maintained.
“Drivers are reporting that they feel it is morally wrong to drive vehicles which are likely to become mobile infection hubs.
“Numerous office based workers are currently adjusting to the prospect of returning to the office after 16 months of home working, many are very nervous and the removal of the rules on face mask wearing will increase levels of anxiety among passengers.
“Throughout the pandemic Sadiq Khan has done the right thing and introduced processes needed to protect bus workers. Unite hopes that honourable record will continue with measures to ensure that the public continues to wear face masks on London transport.”