|21 May 2020|
The NHS has been doing a fantastic job during the Covid-19 crisis. We are now able to see just how important it is to give the taxpayers' money to this wonderful life-preserving institution.
There are, however, other workers who are providing essential services in different ways . I have been working as a coach and bus driver for 26½ years, latterly for Stagecoach West. The reason that the buses are still running, albeit not as frequently in some cases, is to provide essential transport for NHS staff and for those who have no transport for their weekly shop.
In our operating company, we have six depots, with a Head Office in Gloucester. Some of our services are running as usual: these being the subsidised or tendered services which are classed as "social need" services. We have more than half of our drivers, all of our inspectors and some of our (admittedly lean) management furloughed. The Head Office staff are largely working from home. Clearly bus drivers cannot do that! I have not been furloughed as yet, so I plod on. We are provided with sanitizer by Stagecoach and the security screens for the cabs have had clear film stuck over the areas with holes for speech. We do not yet have masks, although some drivers bring their own. I use anti-bac gel on the items I touch (ie. controls, wheel, etc.) before I use a vehicle.
There is a further aspect to my work at Stagecoach. I am one of four Workplace Representatives (“Shop Stewards” in old money) at the Gloucester depot, one of about a dozen in the Stagecoach West branch of Unite the Union. I am also Branch Chair, working alongside the other reps, and in particular our Convenor, in upholding members' rights and fighting for their wellbeing. The only reps still working are me and one other, along with Andy our Convenor. We took the view that our job is to be in the workplace for the members.
People think that unions are just disruptors, but this is not true. We work to uphold members' rights, but it is Unite the Union national policy to work with businesses, in order to strengthen them. A good outcome for an employer can give a good outcome for an employee.
So, three cheers for the NHS. But don't forget the other key workers!
Richard Flower OI (1974-1980)
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