A small number of drivers at major bus operator Arriva’s Northfleet depot have tested positive for Covid-19, and the company has been slammed by Unite for an “alarmingly lax attitude to public and worker safety.”
The union are critical of Arriva’s stance not to tell around 10 workers thought to have been in contact with the driver to self-isolate, and a number of workers are now confirmed to be infected.
But the company say they have “followed government guidance every step of the way,” and that safety measures established in consultation with heath and safety experts are in place.
Arriva are also working in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) South East and the local council to help stop the spread of the virus.
Unite raised concerns last week after a driver based at Arriva’s Southern Countries Northfleet depot tested positive for Covid-19.
On discovering they’d been infected, the driver “immediately contacted their employer”, and the union said it was “concerned that the bus company did not act with sufficient swiftness to draw this news to the attention of workers and passengers.”
The driver had reportedly been in work the previous day, spending 45 minutes in the staff canteen and also spending time on a ferry bus with other drivers.
Unite said it estimates that at least eight to 10 people had been contact with the driver for 15 minutes or more, and advised the company that that it should tell these self-isolate on full pay at least until they could be tested and undergo a full consultation with a medical professional.
The union said: “This approach was rejected by Arriva who stated that its premises are ‘Covid secure’ so the risk of infection was low.
“The failure of Arriva to take proactive measure has caused considerable alarm and distress among bus drivers at the depot.”
It has since been confirmed by Arriva that more staff members at the depot have caught and tested positive for coronavirus.
Unite regional officer Dave Weeks said the “lax attitude of Arriva to this Covid-19 positive case is alarming,” and stated that drivers at the depot now believe management are not interested in their health and well-being.
But rejecting Unite’s claims of negligence, the bus company has stressed that its workspaces are Covid-19 secure and defended its decision not to send workers home.
Simon Finnie, Area Managing Director for Arriva, said: “Throughout the Covid-19 crisis we have followed government guidance every step of the way and implemented measures in consultation with health and safety experts to ensure our workspace and vehicles are Covid-19 secure.
“As a result of these positive tests, we are working in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) South East who are providing advice and support to us.
“Our buses continue to be Covid-19 secure and we have an enhanced cleaning regime in place, ensuring all touch-point surfaces, both on our buses and in our depots, are regularly deep cleaned.
“Our driver’s protective screens have also been enhanced and we are operating a range of onboard social distancing measures to help keep everyone safe.”
Dr Claire Winslade, health protection consultant for PHE South East, also confirmed that they are working closely with Arriva, Kent County Council and NHS partners to provide public health advice.
“The company has been advised to continue to take appropriate public health measures to ensure it is safe for other staff to attend as normal.
“However, if anyone does develop symptoms, which include a new continuous cough, high temperature or loss or change to their sense of taste or smell, they should self-isolate straight away and arrange to get a COVID-19 test.”
Unite regional officer Dave Weeks said: “The lax attitude of Arriva to this Covid-19 positive case means that potentially other workers and the general public are now at greater risk of exposure to the infection.
“The drivers at Northfleet now believe that management are not interested in their health and well-being and are more interested in profits than people.
“What made the case even more alarming is that Arriva’s senior management did not appear to know what policy and procedures should be followed in such circumstances.
“Arriva has to up its game. It must ensure that drivers have not been exposed to Covid-19 and that they are not potentially spreading it.
“Further, any worker who has been exposed to the virus in the workplace should be fully supported by their employer to take the appropriate public health precautions, and not suffer a financial penalty as a result.
“Unless companies take a responsible attitude and ensure that workers can self-isolate and are fully paid, then workplace transmission of Covid-19 is going to increase.”