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THE family of a rail worker who died from coronavirus after a man spat on her at work have vowed to continue fighting for justice.
Ticket officer Belly Mujinga, 47, was working on the concourse at London’s Victoria station on March 22 when a man who claimed to have Covid-19 spat and coughed at her and a colleague.
The mother-of-one suffered from respiratory problems, yet her family says that her employer Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) insisted that she continue working directly with members of the public.
A week after the attack, both women started showing symptoms of the virus. Ms Mujinga was admitted to Barnet General hospital and put on a ventilator but died on April 5.
Following an investigation into the attack, British Transport Police decided last week that it was not linked to her death.
Ms Mujinga’s husband Lusamba Katalay said that the family was disappointed that no further action will be taken against the 57-year-old man but added that they will not pursue a prosecution.
Instead, Mr Katalay has said he will continue to campaign for justice by demanding GTR provide protection for its employees, “the way they should have protected Belly.”
A petition calling for action from GTR, supported by Ms Mujinga’s union the TSSA, has received over 400,000 signatures.
Writing in the petition, Mr Katalay said: “Along with the TSSA, we desperately want Belly’s colleagues to have proper PPE [protective wear] to protect them from catching this killer virus.
“I’m saddened that my wife’s death hasn’t been enough to get her employer to provide visors and other PPE for her friends and colleagues.”
Before her death, Ms Mujinga had told her family that she was “scared for her life,” but GRT decided not to reduce her contact hours, allow her to work behind a protective screen or give employees PPE, according to the petition.
Mr Katalay said that the family has serious questions about why Ms Mujinga was working with the public despite her health condition.
“Belly was assaulted, namely spat on whilst at work,” the petition continues. “PPE could have protected her. This lack of protection is negligent and is a dangerous precedent that cannot be continued, the risk is simply too high.”
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes echoed calls for adequate PPE to be given to all staff. He said: “All transport workers on the front line should have access to masks, visors, hand sanitiser and other protective equipment.
“Even this week, Belly’s GTR colleagues at Victoria station still did not have visors despite other companies providing them. This has to change now. Staff are scared, and infection rates remain high.”
Last week Labour MP Dawn Butler endorsed the campaign, sharing the petition and posting on Twitter: “Belly Mujinga, we have not forgotten nor forsaken you. I am making enquiries.”
Yesterday London Mayor Sadiq Khan repeated calls for an independent inquiry into the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on black and minority-ethnic (BAME) workers and communities.
Black people are four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white people, according to the Office for National Statistics, while BAME workers are over-represented in high-risk occupations such as transport and healthcare.
Stand Up to Racism co-convener Weyman Bennett told the Morning Star that the burden of proof for holding institutions or people to account for deaths in the BAME community is always “set beyond reach.”
“It’s incredibly difficult to get a conviction against the police or an individual or company when dealing with racism,” he explains.
“The nurses that died, the porters that died, the health workers that died as a consequence of the mismanagement of Covid by the government: it will be difficult to prove, even if you know it’s true, as in this case.”
Mr Bennett added that until PPE is given to workers, and bosses’ “blase attitudes” towards the health of their employees changes, “it’s a deliberate act of putting profit before people.”
Southern Railway and Gatwick Express managing director Angie Doll told the Morning Star that the company “noted” British Transport Police conclusions, but “this does not detract from the tragic death of our colleague.
“We are devastated that this pandemic has affected people across the transport industry including two of our own colleagues who have sadly passed away due to coronavirus.
It added that the incident took place before the lockdown started and social distancing restrictions were in place.
“We follow all of the latest government health advice, which has not advised that railway workers need to wear PPE and this remains the case. More recently, the travelling public has been advised to wear a face covering to help prevent spread. To support our people, we in turn, have now provided masks to our frontline workers, which we initiated at the point at which the official advice was updated.”
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