March 20, 2019

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Don't pin all seatbelt responsibilities on school bus drivers: unions

CUPE has been asking for additional staff to be placed on buses to assist in keeping students safely in their seats while the vehicles are moving. (David Lipnowski / Free Press files)</p>

CUPE has been asking for additional staff to be placed on buses to assist in keeping students safely in their seats while the vehicles are moving. (David Lipnowski / Free Press files)

Should seatbelts become mandated on school buses in Manitoba, the responsibility for keeping students buckled in can't be dropped on the drivers, say the unions that represent nearly half of all school bus drivers in the province.

The issue of student safety on school buses -- raised several times in the past -- came up again this week, when a group called Manitoba Parents for Mandatory Seatbelts called on the provincial government to retrofit the vehicles with three-point seatbelts.

"If seatbelts were to be enforced on school buses, we'd have to sit down with the employer and negotiate the parameters around that, and the roles and responsibilities of the bus drivers, and the overall enforcement issues and how that would all play out... You can't just give bus drivers all the responsibility and all the liability," said George Bouchard, Manitoba education sector co-ordinator for Canadian Union of Public Employees.

CUPE represents about 1,300 bus drivers in 15 Manitoba school divisions, including Pembina Trails, Seven Oaks, and River East Transcona in Winnipeg.

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Should seatbelts become mandated on school buses in Manitoba, the responsibility for keeping students buckled in can't be dropped on the drivers, say the unions that represent nearly half of all school bus drivers in the province.

The issue of student safety on school buses — raised several times in the past — came up again this week, when a group called Manitoba Parents for Mandatory Seatbelts called on the provincial government to retrofit the vehicles with three-point seatbelts.

"If seatbelts were to be enforced on school buses, we'd have to sit down with the employer and negotiate the parameters around that, and the roles and responsibilities of the bus drivers, and the overall enforcement issues and how that would all play out... You can't just give bus drivers all the responsibility and all the liability," said George Bouchard, Manitoba education sector co-ordinator for Canadian Union of Public Employees.

CUPE represents about 1,300 bus drivers in 15 Manitoba school divisions, including Pembina Trails, Seven Oaks, and River East Transcona in Winnipeg.

Bouchard said the union has been asking for additional staff to be placed on buses to assist in keeping students safely in their seats while the vehicles are moving.

"The concern that we have with the seatbelts is: whose responsibility does it become in order to ensure that those seatbelts are being used?" he said Friday.

"Walking up and down ensuring that everyone is buckled in, that just adds time to routes and adds a number of issues. During the bus ride, would a bus have to pull over and the bus driver have to go back if somebody unbuckles?"

School buses can generally carry up to 72 students. In Winnipeg, often buses carrying early-years students (kindergarten to Grade 5) will have three to a seat.

Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, which represents about 100 bus drivers in the Winnipeg School Division, said there is a concern drivers could be subjected to fines for having unbuckled passengers under age 18, if they were to take off their seatbelts during the ride.

"Primarily drivers are concerned with whose responsibility it will be to ensure kids remain in their seatbelt while the bus is moving? Would there be an assistant on the bus to help, so the driver can focus on the road?" Traeger said.

"Bus drivers take children's safety very seriously and want what's best for their passengers. But safety also means the drivers have to keep their eyes on the road, and with seatbelts on their bus, drivers want to make sure that any extra duties are clearly laid out so that drivers can continue to keep kids safe while in transit."

Traeger said the issue of seatbelts on buses is expected to come up again in the spring, when the current contract expires for WSD drivers.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Ashley Prest

Ashley Prest
Reporter

Ashley works the general assignment beat.

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