Drivers with Brussels’ transport company STIB have said they could strike again tomorrow if the company does not respond to their demands on social distancing and disinfection of vehicles.
The bus and tram network was impacted throughout Monday as several unionised drivers refused to work citing unsafe working conditions, in a spontaneous protest coinciding with the first day of the reopening of all shops.
“90% of drivers have decided to use their right to withdraw [from the workplace] for their own safety and that of passengers,” said a bus driver identified as Oliver, Bruzz reports.
As STIB brought their timetable to normal following a scaleback in frequency due to the lockdown, Oliver said that the company was not taking the necessary sanitary measures.
“As of today, management has decided not to limit the number of travellers on buses or trams anymore. There is no control whatsoever on the compliance with social distancing norms or the use of face masks,” he said.
Since 4 May, the use of face masks on public transportation in Belgium has been mandatory, with STIB, police and other transport companies saying they would strictly enforce it.
“The police are checking people who are out together in parks but they get much closer to each other on buses,” Oliver said, adding STIB were no longer ensuring buses were disinfected between drivers’ shifts.
In April, reporting that around 30% of STIB staff were out sick, mobility authorities in Brussels said that the company had started to thoroughly disinfect buses before putting them back into service.
Now, according to Oliver, bus drivers sometimes have to leave with a bus that has not yet been cleaned, a bus or a tram will also run continuously from morning to noon, without being disinfected.
“With the reopening of stores, we think major problems could arise,” he said, adding that the drivers also demanded that the number of travellers allowed to board a vehicle was limited.
“If management agrees to that today, we can get back to work right away, if not, anger will take over from fear and we may strike again tomorrow,” he said.
A spokesperson for STIB, Françoise Ledune, said that the company estimated that all necessary safety measures were in place and said the drivers’ requests were not backed by their unions.
“We have no answer to give to people that take our network hostage,” Ledune said, adding that it was, therefore, possible that transport was impacted again on Tuesday.
Ledune denied the drivers’ claim that vehicles were not disinfected, saying that the company was spending some €500,000 each week in additional cleaning fees and that each driver was also given a disinfecting kit.
While the company does not limit the number of people who can board a vehicle, Ledune said that stickers on seats and windows and frequent audio messages reminded commuters to respect social-distancing rules.
Gabriela Galindo The Brussels Times
Update: This story has been updated to include statements from a STIB spokesperson.