Belly Mujinga deserved more than being merely disposable


Belly Mujinga’s death has become a national tragedy. That it was entirely avoidable is all the more painful.

The death of the railway ticket officer who died after being spat at by a man claiming to have COVID-19 has been met with grief, outrage and despondency.

Belly Mujinga, 47, who have had underlying respiratory problems was working with her colleague, another woman when the assault took place. She is said to have been working a shift as one of the ticket office staff for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) Southern at London’s Victoria Station, one of the busiest within the city’s Transport Network.

In a statement released 12 May the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association union said:

“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.”

London Victoria

London Victoria train station is one of the busiest within the capital's network.

The incident took place 22 March and within days both women were said to have fallen ill of the virus. The Union added that upon medical advice from her doctor in a phone call which took place around the 25th March she was finally stood down despite it being claimed that her employer had prior knowledge of her condition.

In a statement which has since been made to CNN, GTR stated:

“The safety of our customers and staff, who are key workers themselves, continues to be front of mind at all times and we follow the latest Government advice,”

Angie Doll, managing director at Southern Railway and Gatwick Express, said in the statement.

“We are devastated that our dedicated colleague Belly has passed away and our deepest sympathies are with her family, with whom we have been in touch through this very difficult time.”

The TSSA report that Belly’s condition grew worse and that she was taken to Barnet Hospital by ambulance on Thursday 2 April. They add that she was put on a ventilator before dying on 5 April, 14 days after she was assaulted at Victoria Station. The last time Belly’s husband is said to have seen her was when she was taken away in the ambulance.

That Belly Mujinga lost her life in the midst of the pandemic is a source of extreme sadness. That she leaves behind a husband is cause for even greater grief. That, given the information available so far, this may very well have been an avoidable trauma altogether, provides cause to think and ask serious questions as to the work practices of certain businesses and employers.

It will lead to questions as to why, despite apparent knowledge of her respiratory issues, she was sent back out onto the concourse to complete her shift. Many will also question why, she had been made available for the shift in that capacity in the first place, despite clear warnings of the risks to people with underlying health conditions.

It will also lead some to question government policy. This news breaks in the same week where those who are unable to work from home are being ‘actively encouraged’ to return to work.

The government’s 51-page dossier has set out plans for work to resume under “covid secure guidelines” but these will need to be stringently applied if workers are to operate under genuinely safe work conditions.

It also highlights the increasingly urgent need for better protection to be made available to transport workers. On 14 April, the transport network reported that The Government's action plan for the supply and delivery of PPE did not allocate any to transport workers. This at the time was based on WHO guidance which "follows the science" and advised against the use of masks in public places and for those working in supermarkets, waste collection, schools, transport and similar settings.

London Victoria

Commuters have been encouraged to use face masks on public transport.

At the time of writing on April 14, the number of transport workers to have died stood at “at least 14 deaths in the capital alone.” A little more than a month on and following the death of Belly Mujinga, 42 TfL workers have died of the Covid-19, in addition to 10 Network Rail staff. The government directive which encourages the use of mask wearing in public places has been adopted by the TfL. Yet, in the tragic case of Belly Mujinga, a face mask may not have been enough to protect both her and her colleague from the assault which they faced. That greater provision is needed for transport staff is beyond question, whether measures are put in place to reflect the risk in which they face though is.

The British Transport Police have since said that an inquiry into the death has been launched but this case must be the last of its kind.

RIP Belly Mujinga.

Mayowa Ayodele