Coronavirus: 5 Saskatoon Transit operators refuse to drive, citing safety concerns

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Saskatoon bus drivers worry for safety amid COVID-19
WATCH: Saskatoon Transit drivers are calling for more safety measures to protect them amid the COVID-19 outbreak – Mar 26, 2020

Correction: The City of Saskatoon said five transit drivers have evoked the right to refuse work under that Saskatchewan Employment Act.

Some bus drivers in Saskatoon are no longer on the road after safety concerns around COVID-19.

Five drivers are refusing unsafe work, saying the city’s precautions to protect them aren’t enough.

There are 95 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan as of March 26.

The city says it’s brought in a number of measures to help protect bus drivers. Passengers can only get on from the back and fares have been dropped to cut down on interactions between staff and riders.

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Drivers are given hand sanitizer, and buses are cleaned daily according to the city.

That’s not enough for the union representing transit workers, though. It wants masks and gloves to protect drivers, and the buses cleaned more often

“They’re being sanitized once a night in the garages, but once the bus goes out [and] somebody gets on the bus, it’s potentially been infected, right?” said Darcy Pederson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615.

The seven workers refusing to drive are citing the right to refuse dangerous work under the Saskatchewan Employment Act.

Under the code, employees can refuse to work in circumstances  to perform an activity that constitutes a danger to the employee or to another employee.”

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Those transit workers are cleaning the buses instead, according to Pederson.

There are also more riders on the bus, he said, with some just looking to kill time.

“Some of our buses are seeing a little more passengers then they usually do, some of them are getting full seating loads. We’ve got people sitting shoulder to shoulder, standing shoulder to shoulder,” he said.

The province limited gatherings to 10 people on March 25. That doesn’t include buses, as long as people are standing more than two metres apart, according to the city.

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These new regulations are a change for people who ride the bus every day.

“Kinda eerie,” said Ed Schmiet of riding the bus this week.

“You don’t want to touch anything, you want to be distanced from other people and sometimes that’s hard when it’s only the half back end of the bus, but that’s what you have to do to protect drivers so that’s what they have to do”

“It really protects the drivers, that’s what a lot of people are worried about,” adds Cheyenne Chadney, who relies on the bus to take her to upwards of 10 appointments some days.

“It’s another essential service, so they’re on the bus from early in the morning to almost midnight.”

The city says the public should limit bus rides to essential trips like to work or the grocery store.

“Our buses are running to transport medical staff, first responders and other essential workers where they need to go,” said James McDonald, the city’s director of transit, in an email statement to Global News.

The city said it’s working to address the union’s concerns.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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