I am writing to express my support for Ontario’s school bus drivers.
I understand that the Ontario government has changed the rules for the province’s school bus industry. Student transportation contracts are now awarded through a complex and competitive Request-for-Proposal (RFP) bidding system, unlike the much simpler (although still competitive) process used by school boards in past. In practice, this RFP system has forced large operators to give up routes, resulting in yard closures; and it has driven small, independent operators out of business.
For school bus drivers, this new RFP system is causing distress. Bus maintenance and repair work is being neglected as operators strive to keep costs down, and a wave of job losses is sweeping across the province. Worse still, many drivers who have lost their jobs are being re-hired by the contractors who won the bid to take their work. That means these drivers are doing the exact same work, just with a different operator – often at a lower wage and fewer workplace protections.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Ministers, I support a student transportation system that that is well-funded; provides good, stable jobs for workers; and is fair for all operators. The current RFP model fails on that score.
However, even with an RFP system in place there is MUCH that our governments (both federal and provincial) can do to enhance safety, raise work standards and protect the rights of school bus drivers.
1. Implement a fair wage for school bus drivers:
The Ministry of Education must increase its annual Student Transportation Grant to provide all Ontario school bus drivers a much-needed, and immediate, wage enhancement. Additionally, the Ministry must establish a minimum wage standard for drivers of $15 per hour that guards against further wage declines. This rate should increase, each year, in line with inflation and should be paid on all tasks performed during a work shift.
2. Protect collective bargaining rights:
Federal and provincial labour legislation must be amended to ensure that winning RFP bidders maintain existing school bus driver collective agreements, when they are already in place. Labour ministries should also explore provisions that would assist in the establishment of industry-wide collective agreements, to set adequate baseline work standards for school bus drivers across the province.
3. More safety inspections:
The Ministry of Transportation must expand its monitoring of school transportation with more regular and random inspections of buses, ensuring all unsafe buses are adequately repaired or taken off the road.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.