Auditor general's report made school bus drivers look 'unprofessional,' union says

The union representing New Brunswick school bus drivers is speaking out about safety concerns Auditor General Paul Martin raised in a report last week.

Martin's office audited files of 65 drivers, and found 46 per cent of the files did not demonstrate compliance with licensing requirements, 37 per cent did not have proof of bus training from when they were hired, and one in five did not have a criminal record check on file.

Iris Lloyd, president of CUPE Local 1253, which represents about 900 school bus drivers, says the report brought to light some issues that drivers have faced for years, but the personnel files are not up to date and aren't an accurate reflection of driver qualifications.

"The school bus drivers are bringing in their licence or bringing in their abstracts or doing their criminal record checks, but the files aren't being kept up to date," she said.

"So it made the bus drivers look like they were unprofessional and aren't doing their job, when, in fact, they are."

Iris Lloyd, president of New Brunswick CUPE Local 1253, is against the legislation and says it amounts to the government breaking already-negotiated contracts.
Iris Lloyd, president of CUPE Local 1253 says the auditor general's report poorly represents school bus drivers. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News)

When presenting his report last Tuesday, Martin said the province has 107,000 schoolchildren and 78 per cent of them are bused to school. He said non-compliance with rules related to bus safety "could increase the risk of endangering a vulnerable population."

Education Minister Bill Hogan was questioned about the report in the legislature that day.

He said his department takes the findings seriously and is going to work with school districts to ensure that records for school bus drivers are current and include all the drivers' required documentation, including declarations for drivers over 65 that they are medically fit to work.

CBC News requested a response from the Department of Education on Wednesday about the union's comments, but one was not provided.

Martin said last week that "none of the tested school districts demonstrated full compliance with legislation and policy."

New Brunswick auditor general Paul Martin says he's concerned about the level of debt held by N.B. Power in light of consistent losses and impending requirements to pay for costly upgrades and retrofits of its existing infrastructure.
Auditor General Paul Martin released a report last week that included findings fro an audit of 65 school bus driver files. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

CBC News also asked the anglophone school districts for a comment. Anglophone East, South and North did not respond before publication, and Anglophone West superintendent David McTimoney directed questions to the Education Department.

Recruitment, retention lacking

Martin's report also said the department and districts expressed concern about recruitment and retention of bus drivers. He wrote that although the department began work on a provincial strategy, no targets were set and the strategy was on hold at the time of the audit.

Lloyd echoed the recruitment and retention issues, not just among bus drivers, but school custodians and mechanics too.

Education Minister Bill Hogan said last week that his department will work with school districts to ensure that records for school bus drivers are kept up to date. (Jacques Poitras / CBC)

"We have been dealing with it at provincial labour-management level, but nothing has come to our table on a bargaining level to really address recruitment and retention," she said.

"The majority of these school buses are running six hours, six-and-a-half-hour runs, and for young people, it's very hard to try to raise a family on six and six-and-a-half hours a day,

"The wages just aren't there. So we recruit them, but we can't retain them."

Lloyd said she wants parents to rest assured that the people driving the school buses are professionals, despite missing paperwork in their files.

She also said they take their jobs very seriously.

"The safety of the students is our only priority when we get out there and drive those buses," she said.

"When I say they are driving the most precious cargo in the province, we truly mean that as school bus drivers."