COVID-19: ETF decries death of assaulted UK railway worker Belly Mujinga

13 May 2020

ETF is shocked and devasted to learn of the death of Belly Mujinga, TSSA union member and railway ticket officer for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) Southern, who died of Coronavirus in April after being spat on by a member of the public who claimed to have COVID-19 while carrying out her duties. Belly and her colleague were working their shift out on the concourse of London’s Victoria Station, without any PPE, when the assault transpired. Despite reporting the incident to management and begging to work from inside the building, management said they need her and her colleague to work outside and sent them back out with no protection. Within days of the assault, Belly and her colleague fell ill with COVID-19. Belly had underlying respiratory problems which management had already been made aware of. It was only after the incident and a call from her doctor that management stood her down from work. Belly died 14 days after she was assaulted at the age of 47 and left behind her an 11-year-old daughter.

TSSA has reported the incident to the Railways Inspectorate, which is the safety arm of the Office for Road and Rail (ORR), for investigation. TSSA is also taking legal advice on the situation and supporting her family and colleagues. We have been informed that the British Transport Police is also investigating the incident.

Belly is one of far too many of the frontline workers who have lost their lives due to COVID-19. However, her death wasn’t inevitable. Protection measures and PPE must be made obligatory.

Health & Safety

ETF and its affiliates have called on governments, competent authorities and companies managing public transport services to protect the health and safety of their workers by providing them with PPE and guaranteeing minimum contact with the public to prevent health risks. Companies must guarantee that their employees can safely carry out their duties. It is completely unacceptable that Belly and her colleague were made to work without PPE, especially when management knew that there was a risk of being in contact with the general public. Indeed, her colleague reported to The Guardian:

“We were told that we are not even allowed to put on masks,”  “Govia has behaved reckless and negligent. They have failed in their duty of care. We are treated like we are robots.”

There is also the question of why Belly was working in the first place. She was in an ‘at risk’ category that was well known to her employer. ETF has repeatedly called for companies to stop valuing profits over lives. Belly should have been able to stand down from her front line duties early on in the pandemic.

Increased aggression and complete lack of respect from passengers

Before COVID-19, railway transport workers and urban public transport workers were already witnessing acts of aggression from passengers, but this pandemic has amplified these attacks. Transport workers are growing increasingly fearful of attacks in these already dangerous circumstances. Given the current context, in order to better protect them from such violence,  employers should not hold employees responsible for ensuring that social distancing is maintained between passengers. Asking employees to interfere when social distancing is not respected by passengers will only increase aggressions. Furthermore, measures to prevent such attacks on workers should be implemented, and perpetrators should be held responsible for their acts.

ETF once again deplores this heinous act, and sends its sincerest condolences to Belly’s family, friends and colleagues. Such an incident could and should have been avoided.

Governments across Europe are easing up on lockdown measures, but that is no excuse to ease up on health and safety measures.

We support Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary who declared:

“Rather than talking about the easing the lockdown, the government must first ensure that the right precautions and protections have been taken so that more lives are not lost. Anyone who is vulnerable should remain at home and home working should be the default wherever possible. Our rail industry needs to have a very serious look at what tasks are deemed ‘essential’ and must put protections in place for all our members and our passengers.”

ETF expresses solidarity with TSSA and with all railway workers!

ETF is in contact with TSSA to follow developments and we will continue to fight for the health and safety of railway workers all over Europe! Health and safety is a right, not a privilege!