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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Deaths at work

by New Worker correspondent

This week we chiefly look at the transport sector, with a glance at the retail sector; in particular, what the trade unions are doing with regard to the pandemic, both as regards the immediate health & safety issues, and the longer-term outlook. It is clear that “we’re all in it together” is a load of nonsense, with employers eager to take advantage of the pandemic to implement long-planned cuts in wages and conditions.

MONDAY saw the release of figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) relating to COVID-19 fatalities. These, said transport union RMT, showed that male bus and coach drivers and taxi drivers are two of the occupational groups with the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths.

Mick Cash, the union’s departing General Secretary, said: “Bus workers and taxi drivers have kept vital connections running throughout the pandemic for other key workers and essential travellers, and we need an industry-wide approach which ensures their safety and takes action to address the threats from the new COVID variant.

“RMT is reiterating its calls for the Government to ensure that transport workers are classified as a priority group for COVID-19 vaccination. This will save lives and maintain the resilience of the UK’s transport networks.”

As regards the situation on the railways, the union also warns that: “A complacent and callous approach to the increased threat from COVID-19 is leading to a surge in deaths and illness of transport workers.”

Members report that since November the number of deaths and illnesses due to coronavirus amongst rail workers have at least doubled. At the same time, Department for Transport figures also show that rail use is three times higher when compared with the last national lockdown.

The union blames a “creeping complacency and a callous refusal by transport bosses to mandate a nationwide overhaul of risk assessments to take into account the heightened risk of the new virus has caused the surge”.

Mick Cash deplored the Government’s laxity in dealing with “a lethal cocktail threatening rail workers … But instead of responding to our call for an urgent national review of all risk assessments we are being told its business as usual – this is as callous as it is complacent.

“We are advising our members of their right to stop working if their safety is threatened and I will be seeking an urgent meeting with Grant Shapps asking that he intervenes to take speedy action to address the new threat and also to prioritise transport workers for the vaccine.”

At one bus depot, that of Bannockburn First Bus, operations are still ongoing, and bosses are only reducing services despite having 28 positive cases of COVID-19, which represents over half the workforce at the depot.

Graeme Turnbull, a Unite industrial officer, demanded the temporary closure of the depot, saying: “This is a timely reminder of the considerable risk and sacrifice that our members and all transport workers undertake on a daily basis to ensure key workers and our communities function in these challenging times. It is also vitally important that the company conducts an immediate investigation to understand how the virus has been able to take hold and spread across the workforce.”