2 Halifax Transit drivers refuse work, renewing call for mask enforcement
Drivers refused to operate their buses after passengers refused to wear masks
Two Halifax Transit bus drivers refused to work last week after multiple passengers entered their buses without wearing masks, renewing union calls to enforce Nova Scotia's mandatory mask rule.
"Both operators refused," Ken Wilson, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 which represents Halifax Transit workers, said in an interview with CBC's Mainstreet Monday. "One refused Thursday evening and another operator refused Friday evening.
"It was about passengers not wearing masks and so under the [Occupational Health Safety] Act, the operators have the right to refuse unsafe work."
Masks became mandatory on all transit buses and ferries in July, but there are no penalties in place for not complying.
Individuals don't have to wear a mask if they have a medical condition that keeps them from doing so.
"There are very few valid medical reasons to not wear a mask," Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said in July when masks were made mandatory.
Wilson said about 90 per cent of passengers wear masks, but it's the others who concern drivers.
"We're not allowed to enforce or to advise — we're to take everybody at face value that if they say they have a medical condition, they do," he said.
He says the municipality should start enforcing mask use on public transit to protect drivers and passengers.
"The confusing part is that we can deny entry to someone not wearing a pair of shoes or not wearing a shirt but when you don't have a mask, you have to take a seat and that doesn't make sense and that's the problem," he said.
Wilson said the transit drivers refused to operate their buses because they felt unsafe amid a resurgence of COVID-19, which has brought on community spread.
"My operators, my members are stressed. They've been on the front lines for over 10 months. I don't think anybody thought this is going to go this long. Now it could be almost another year before we get a vaccine in this part of the region," Wilson said.
"People are COVID-fatigued. They're stressed. They're worried about bringing this home to their families ... and it's really opened my eyes to the way we're being treated as workers for the transit agency."
A spokesperson with Halifax Transit said "the obligation to wear a mask rests with the individual" and there are no plans to change the current protocol.
"Halifax Transit will continue to adhere to public health guidelines regarding education and enforcement of the use of masks," Erin DiCarlo, a spokesperson for Halifax Transit, said in an emailed statement Monday.
"Operators may remind passengers of the requirement to wear a mask, but passengers who are not wearing a mask will not be denied entry, as some passengers may have medical reasons that prevent them from wearing one."
With files from CBC's Mainstreet