Ottawa

No legal guarantee of bathroom breaks for bus drivers

OC Transpo bus drivers complaining about a lack of bathroom breaks aren't about to get any relief from federal or provincial labour laws.

Labour law relies on 'common sense and reasonableness of employers,' lawyer says

An OC Transpo bus arrives in Blackburn Hamlet. Drivers, backed by their union, complain they're working long shifts, often without bathroom breaks. (Stu Mills/CBC)

OC Transpo bus drivers complaining about a lack of bathroom breaks aren't about to get any relief from federal or provincial labour laws.

Last week, a bus operator went public with his frustrations, complaining drivers don't even get time to go to the toilet during their shifts. His union backed up that claim.

Paul Champ, an Ottawa labour and human rights lawyer, says there are no statutes in any jurisdiction in Canada guaranteeing employees a bathroom break.

"Unfortunately, it seems legislators just rely on the common sense and reasonableness of employers," Champ said.

"It is kind of a tricky issue because unless it's a disability issue, I don't know what someone can say." 

Paul Champ says some cities have agreements with local businesses along bus routes where drivers are welcome to pop in and use the washroom. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

According to the Canada Labour Code, workers are entitled to a 30-minute break every five hours, but an employer can cancel the break to deal with an emergency.

"I've worked a 10-hour piece where I literally didn't have time to pee," said Chris Grover, the OC Transpo driver who went public.

"I worked four months of [nine-hour shifts] where I didn't have time to pee."

Champ said OC Transpo may be breaking the law by failing to ensure drivers get that 30-minute break

"They should have breaks but because their schedules are so tight, often drivers don't have the time. They can't stop," he said. "While they are supposed to be guaranteed a break, they're simply not getting it."

'Happens quite a bit'

It's not a new issue, according to Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 president Clint Crabtree, who said typical shifts are between 7.5 and eight hours, sometimes without a break.

'It happens quite a bit that they don't have time to get out of the seat, to go take a washroom break,' said Clint Crabtree, president of the union local representing OC Transpo drivers. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Chronic staff shortages and scheduling snafus are exacerbating the problem, he said.

"It happens quite a bit that they don't have time to get out of the seat, to go take a washroom break," Crabtree said. 

On Wednesday, OC Transpo boss John Manconi acknowledged drivers are exhausted, and said many are refusing to take overtime shifts.

John Manconi, general manager of transportation services, says OC Transpo needs to make tough choices when it comes to scheduling. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"We're hearing about more recovery time, more frequency of service ... it's not a bottomless pit," he said.

"I'd love to solve everybody's issue. But it's fares, taxes or services."

Champ said drivers could file a grievance with their union every time they don't get proper breaks. Bus drivers in Hamilton who were poised to strike until a tentative agreement was reached Wednesday night cited missed breaks as a major reason for their discontent.

OC and Para Transpo deals expire at the end of March. Crabtree told CBC on Wednesday talks with the city on a new contract should start in the new year.

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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