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Inadequate school bus health and safety protocols put students and drivers at risk

TORONTO/CNW/ - With less than a month until a scheduled return to the classroom, woefully inadequate school bus health and safety protocols put students and drivers at risk Unifor says.

"Drivers are still lacking basic information on how many students are allowed on a bus, how far they should sit apart, the supply and use of personal protective equipment, protocols for cleaning the bus, and for that matter details on who is cleaning the bus," said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. "There is a hodgepodge of systems and regulations from school board to school board and the Ontario government has done nothing to standardize health and safety aboard school buses."

Today Unifor, as Ontario's leading school bus driver union, released a statement on behalf of drivers calling on the Ford government to take immediate action to guarantee access to PPE, limit the number of passengers and ensure proper sanitation of busses by professional cleaners. Read the statement here.

"Why are the safety precautions so different for school buses? Ontarians are told to socially distance, that anyone over the age of 2 should wear a mask indoors, and to not gather in close cohorts exceeding ten people but there is no set distance or mask requirement for kids on a bus that could hold upwards of 70 students," said Debbie Montgomery, President of Unifor Local 4268. "School bus drivers are feeling pretty disposable right now to say the least."

Last month Unifor warned that urgent action was needed in order for school bus service to resume in September. Now, as parents prepare to return their children to the classroom, it is still unclear if students will be transported in a safe manner.

Unifor is disappointed at the complete lack of consultation with drivers and warns that safety concerns may prevent some drivers from returning to their routes.

"Many of these drivers are senior citizens who in addition to being asked to put themselves on the frontline to safely transport an unknown amount of passengers each day are also worried about the responsibility of cleaning and sanitizing buses," said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi. "In some situations they're being asked to perform the work of industrial cleaners, expected to use a variety of heavy-duty cleaning products. That is not part of their job description."

With added pandemic protocol responsibilities, many drivers may be asked to work upwards of ten hours a day as some local school boards are suggesting route configurations may be altered dramatically. Additional COVID-19 driver responsibilities also include taking attendance, enforcing pre-approved seating plans, and ensuring designated students wear masks.

These extra duties are added to the driver's core responsibility of safely driving a large commercial vehicle during the busiest times of traffic congestion. While the drivers are tasked with providing safe student transport, they remain classified as part-time workers with no health and welfare benefit protections.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector and represents 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.


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