ttc covid

TTC workers in Toronto are walking off the job over a lack of PPE

Frontline TTC workers fearing for their health and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic are now starting to walk off the job after the commission has refused to equip them with crucial personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and shields.

Though the transit body last month gave its employees the green light to wear their own face coverings while working if they so choose, it still hasn't stepped up to make them mandatory or to provide any.

As a result, as of Wednesday night, at least 35 TTC bus operators are refusing to return to work, the union representing them told CP24.

"The workers are afraid. They're afraid for their life, they're afraid for their families and they're afraid for the riding public," the union's national president said to the news outlet.

Though the commission has ramped up cleaning of its vehicles, provided staff with gloves and hand sanitizer, limited passenger capacity and tried to separate passengers from operators through rear-door-only boarding and physical barriers, at least 17 TTC employees have contracted the 2019 novel coronavirus and another 240 or so are in self-isolation due to potential exposure.

The union has since asked the transit authority to supply frontline workers with additional PPE, to no avail.

One TTC worker, who chooses to remain anonymous to protect his job, shared his account of what he calls a "toxic work environment," saying that "when the COVID-19 outbreak started, the TTC did not allow us to protect ourselves. They fought us as much as they possibly could."

"As an employer they have a responsibility to protect the workers."

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green has said that "those who had previously been identified as requiring masks for work," such as maintenance crews and Wheel-Trans operators, continue to receive appropriate protective gear from the their employer daily.

But, there is no supply of masks or face shields currently being provided to other frontline workers, like bus and streetcar drivers or fare inspectors (who now have a different role), though Green said that the transit authority does have around 340,000 surgical masks and 31,000 N95s on hand.

After widespread outcry over the matter, the TTC is now apparently in the process of sourcing materials to create their own fabric face masks to distribute to operators who want them sometime in the next few weeks.

"As public health officials continue to remind us, though, masks are not intended to protect the wearer," Green added. "But they are an extra level of comfort for our operators."

He told CP24 that the Ministry of Labour is now looking into the situation, but has so far ruled that "the circumstances reported by the refusing workers do not meet the conditions, of a work refusal under the Occupational Health and Safety Act."

Workplaces such as Dollarama have recently come under fire for the same PPE issue, with staff citing fears about having to interact with members of the public on a daily basis without any official protective measures.

Lead photo by

Boris Terzic

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