Some HSR drivers are working regular 60-hour workweeks in Hamilton — a longstanding practice the city is now reviewing for safety and affordability.

A 2013 internal audit of city departments revealed that transit employees are working higher levels of overtime compared to other programs.

That’s because of a unique provision in the employment standards act and an exemption brokered between the transit union and the city that lets bus drivers exceed the maximum allowed 48-hour workweek. About ten per cent of drivers are working up to 60 hours a week, according to staff estimates.

'There’s nothing unsafe about it.' - Budh Dhillon, union president

Now, the city is trying to figure out if that practice makes sense, says Don Hull, Hamilton’s director of transit.

“There are benefits and drawbacks to that situation,” Hull said. The main benefit is that extended overtime is usually cheaper than hiring new employees when things like pensions and benefits are factored in.

But it also raises the question — is having drivers working what amounts to an extra two weeks a month safe? “That’s something we’re definitely going to look at … to see if there are any long term implications,” Hull said.

Regulations on safe driving practices can vary from place to place. The European Commission for Mobility and Transport, for example, dictates that total weekly driving time can't exceed 56 hours, with 11 hours in between shifts on a regular basis.

The transit department is currently working on a report that will come to council in March that will examine the safety and affordability of drivers working 60 hour weeks, as well as how the practice contributes to absenteeism.

Budh Dhillon, the president of the union that represents HSR drivers, says the current situation is safe — and what’s more, drivers would likely be upset if the opportunity to work overtime was removed.

“The nature of our business means the hours fluctuate,” he said. “It’s safe. The conditions mean that you have to have eight hours between shifts.”

“There’s nothing unsafe about it.”

Dhillon says in his 34 years in the business, the expectation for the opportunity to work overtime has always been there — and if it was removed in favour of hiring more full time drivers, there would be some definite disappointment in the ranks.

“I don’t see any gains for the city in hiring more people,” he said.

Hull says the city can’t force drivers to work overtime on an ongoing basis, but it’s also never had to. “There has never been a shortage of volunteers,” he said.

The city is attempting to find a situation that best serves employees, HSR and the bottom line for the budget, Hull says.

“And sometimes, those things can be conflicting.”