MPs have urged Boris Johnson to extend the £60,000 NHS death-in-service payments to transport workers on the coronavirus frontline as people return to work in increasing numbers.
Forty-two MPs have written to the prime minister also calling for greater personal protection for hundreds of thousands of transport workers who are instrumental to ministers’ desire to encourage people back to work.
The Labour backbenchers are demanding action after the number of fatalities among London transport workers rose to 42, with a further 10 people dying while working on the railways nationally. At least 15 minicab drivers are also believed by unions to have lost their lives to the virus.
The calls for greater protection for transport workers was backed by Leshi Chandrapala, whose 64-year-old father, Ranjith Chandrapala, died on 3 May after driving the number 92 bus on the Ealing hospital route since the start of the crisis. He died at the same hospital three days after being admitted.
“He and his colleagues were a band of brothers and they have been working in unsafe conditions,” she said.
“We bought him a mask. We did what we could for him. He would strip his clothes every day, but I think that maybe a previous driver in the cab had it and he got a massive dose.
“I can’t get the image of him on a ventilator out of my head.”
Bus and coach drivers are more than twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than the average male and five times as likely as the average female, according to research by the Office for National Statistics of fatalities up to 20 April.
These drivers have been dying at a rate of 26.4 people per 100,000 – making them more vulnerable than care home workers, but not quite as vulnerable as taxi drivers and chauffeurs, who have been dying at a rate of 36.4 people per 100,000.
On Sunday, British Transport police said they were questioning a 57-year-old man about the death of Mujinga.
The United Private Hire Drivers Association, which represents minicab drivers, said it was aware of 15 deaths among those drivers, but the actual toll is likely to be higher.
“It is a building block of the prime minister’s strategy that everyone gets back to work and yet the safety of transport workers has been taken for granted,” said Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton.
“We rightly clap every Thursday for the NHS and carers but transport staff are putting their lives on the line and increasingly will be doing so as the lockdown unwinds, people return to work and passenger numbers climb.
“The prime minister hailed Belly Mujinga’s bravery. He now needs to act so that no other family suffers the loss of a transport worker and, if they do, there is parity with the NHS in the way society recognises their sacrifice.”
The letter from MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, argues that compensation “would certainly help rebuild the lives left behind of so many families united in grief, and act as a public recognition of the huge sacrifice they have made during this crisis”.
A government spokesperson said: “Any deaths from coronavirus are a tragedy and our thoughts go out to the families of those in the transport sector who have lost their lives.
“The financial support scheme the health secretary announced last month applies to frontline health and social care staff, but we are keeping this under review.”