(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Wed, 29th Apr, 2020) London, Uk – –
Call to extend £60,000 payouts for NHS staff relatives to others on frontline such as bus drivers
The families of bus drivers , shop workers, prison officers and other frontline staff who have died from coronavirus should be entitled to the £60,000 life assurance alongside those of healthcare workers, according to employees and unions.
The trade union Unite has reported that 27 of its bus driver members have died after contracting the disease. Concerns have been raised about the financial protections offered to their relatives and those of other workers running essential services in direct contact with the public.
On Monday the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that the families of NHS and social care workers who died after contracting the disease in the course of their duties would receive the payment from the taxpayer. He said the government was also looking at “which other groups of key workers” had suffered on the frontline and “don’t have a scheme already in place”.
Bus drivers and their families said transport workers’ exclusion from the life assurance scheme was another example of them being “chronically overlooked” during the pandemic.
One driver who has worked on London buses for a decade said omitting them “tells us we are not that important”, adding that the decision reminded him of the 2012 Olympics when they were excluded from bonus payments.
“Back then bus drivers were not originally included in a £500 bonus to certain workers to help with the extra million people coming into the city for the Olympics. We had to threaten strike action to get the same treatment as everyone else,” said the driver, who is a trade unionist and transport activist.
“This exclusion, however, cuts far more given all the colleagues we have lost. They were and we are frontline essential workers who take NHS and care home staff to their jobs every day.”Quick guide
Unite said most bus drivers who had died were in London, with others in Birmingham, Bristol and north-west England. It said £60,000 was not enough to cover all the expenses of those left behind.
The union’s national officer for passenger transport, Bobby Morton, called for the payout scheme to be extended to all frontline workers and increased to £100,000 for each family.
Elisabeth Hill, whose husband drives a bus on a busy west London route, criticised the exclusion. She said: “This is yet another example of legions of ordinary workers like bus drivers getting chronically overlooked. Despite the lionisation of NHS workers, other individuals who risk their lives doing essential work are still largely seen as low status and therefore irrelevant.”
Hill, who has previously voiced her concerns over her husband’s fears for his life, cited several examples of the dangers and abuse her husband still faced at work, including a man who coughed on a bus while shouting “coronavirus”. “Who knows if he did or not have Covid but it was pretty appalling behaviour,” she said.
Meanwhile, unions representing workers keeping other vital services such as supermarkets and prisons running during the crisis said they would also ask if the life assurance payout would be extended.
The shopworkers’ union Usdaw said while it was not in dispute that healthcare staff should receive the benefit, it would be asking the government if it had plans to extend the scheme to its members.
A spokesperson said: “We very much regard our members working in supermarkets as being key workers – they’re providing an essential service in difficult circumstances and clearly they’re worried about contracting Covid-19.”
Last week a survey published by the union revealed a third of the workers it represents had been threatened by customers and 62% had experienced verbal abuse during lockdown. It said many of the incidents occurred when shop assistants asked people to adhere to physical distancing measures.
The prison workers’ union POA said it had written to the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, to ask if the scheme would be rolled out to prison staff. So far six workers have died from Covid-19, and more than 2,000 prisoners in England and Wales could be infected with coronavirus.
A spokesperson said POA understood that the government would be considering other frontline workers for the scheme and it hoped prison workers would be among them.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the government recognised the important contribution of all key workers in the fight against coronavirus.
A spokesperson said the scheme was targeted at frontline NHS and care workers because of the “heightened risks they are facing when working in environments where they are providing care to coronavirus patients and patients with suspected coronavirus”.
The government defended the £60,000 payment as “of comparable size to the death-in-service lump sum that would be payable through the NHS pension scheme to the next of kin of an average NHS staff member”.
It said the payment was in addition to any death benefit purchased through the pension scheme.
By Amy Walker and Henry McDonald