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Coronavirus: 38 Toronto bus drivers refuse to work, cite workplace safety concerns

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WATCH ABOVE: Toronto Mayor John Tory said the TTC will be adding additional buses on typically busier routes to help avoid crowding and ensure distance can be maintained for all essential workers who need to take public transit. (March 31) – Mar 31, 2020

The Toronto Transit Commission says 38 bus drivers refused to work on Wednesday due to workplace safety concerns amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

TTC staff issued a statement on Wednesday evening saying 33 drivers at the organization’s Queensway bus division refused to work.

The news comes hours after five drivers at Wilson bus division launched a similar action under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

READ MORE: 6 TTC employees test positive for COVID-19, nearly 700 in self-isolation

“The [Ontario Ministry of Labour] inspector ruled ‘the circumstances reported by the refusing workers do not meet the conditions’ of a work refusal under [the Act],” the statement said.
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“The ministry inspector further determined ‘the employer has measures and procedures in place for prevention of COVID-19 associated hazards.'”

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Officials said the health and safety of workers is “of paramount importance.”

Carlos Santos, president of ATU Local 113 — the union that represents TTC operators, told Global News the workers at the Wilson garage asked for masks and were told masks weren’t being provided.

He said they stayed at the garage for their entire shift pending the assessment from the inspector.

Santos said the workers at the Queensway garage were told the same thing.

The TTC cited new measures taken to protect workers such as rear-door boarding, increased cleaning of buses, blocking the seats right behind the driver and a removable barricade behind where the operator sits in order to “provide the operator with physical distancing.”

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Staff said disposable gloves, wipes and hand sanitizer are given to drivers. They also work is underway to find and supply drivers with washable and reusable masks, noting the goal is to secure the masks within a couple of weeks.

READ MORE: TTC identifies 9 busy bus routes, urges riders to travel later for physical distancing

To date, 17 TTC workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Santos said the drivers are feeling “nervous” and “unsafe” since they’re frontline workers exposed to a variety of people throughout the day.

“They are scared for their lives and they are scared for their loved ones,” he said.

— With files from Alanna Rizza