Thousands of people have died from coronavirus, including many transport workers. As people are being asked to return to work this week, here we share one sad story, that of ticket office worker and TSSA member Belly Mujinga who died of coronavirus in April after being spat at on Victoria station concourse. She was 47 years old and leaves behind her an 11 year old daughter.
On 22 March 2020, Belly and her colleague were on shift as ticket office staff for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) Southern at London’s Victoria Station. They were out on the concourse by the ticket office when they were assaulted by a member of the public who spat at them. The man coughed over them and told them he had the virus.
Belly and her colleague were shaken by their experience and went into the ticket office to report the incident, also asking for the police to be called. Belly pleaded not to be sent back outside and asked to instead work from inside the ticket office. She said she was scared for her life. At this point less than 1,000 people had died of coronavirus in the UK, but it was spreading and Belly also had an underlying health issue.
Belly and her colleague begged to be let to work from inside the building with a protective barrier between them and the public for the rest of that day. They were concerned for their safety. Management said they needed people working outside and sent them back out onto the concourse for the rest of their shift. They had no PPE.
Both women went back outside to complete their shift.
Within days of the assault, both women fell ill with the virus.
Belly had underlying respiratory problems for which she had had time off work. She had problems breathing and had had an operation as well as regular hospital appointments. Her doctor phoned her work around 25 March and insisted that she was stood down from work. Her employer knew about her condition but had not stood her down before this point.
Belly’s condition grew worse and she was taken to Barnet Hospital by ambulance on Thursday 2 April. She was put on a ventilator. Belly died on 5 April, 14 days after she was assaulted at Victoria Station. The last time Belly’s husband saw her was when she was taken away in the ambulance.
Belly was 47 years old when she died. A much-loved mother, wife, sister, friend and colleague, she leaves behind her 11 year old daughter and husband. At her funeral on 29 April, only ten people were allowed to attend.
Belly was a member of the TSSA union. 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. On 12 May we learned that the British Transport Police is also investigating the incident.
Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary, said:
"We are shocked and devastated at Belly’s death. She is one of far too many front-line workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock recently announced that £60,000 would be paid to the survivors of health and care workers who die as a result of the pandemic. Our view is that this compensation should be extended to the families of all front-line workers who perish trying to keep our country and vital services going.
"Sadly, Belly’s is just one of many family tragedies where children have had their parents taken away from them. However, there are serious questions about her death, it wasn’t inevitable. As a vulnerable person in the ‘at risk’ category and her condition known to her employer, there are questions about why GTR didn’t stand her down from front line duties early on in this pandemic. The assault she suffered at work was scary and we do not think the company treated it seriously enough.
"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.”
If you are able to donate to a fundraiser for Belly's family, friends have set one up: R.I.P Belly Mujinga.