Yukon’s Department of Education has dropped Takhini Transport as the territory’s school bus company.
The bus company had its contracts with the territory terminated last week, three years early.
Education spokesperson Ronuk Modha said the department has been monitoring concerns over safety and operational issues.
“We simply weren’t satisfied that the company could provide the service in compliance with all of the requirements that are identified in the busing contract, some of which are safety related, for the 2015-2016 school year.”
Takhini Transport was given its 30-day notice July 6. Modha wouldn’t provide details about why the company was terminated.
Documents obtained by the NDP through an access-to-information request show the department knew about problems at the company for at least the last year.
In July 2014, Val Royle, who was at the time the deputy minister of education, wrote a letter asserting that Takhini Transport had failed to meet its contractual requirements in a variety of ways.
That includes not having buses serviced and repaired by a certified mechanic, not meeting certification requirements and not providing proof of RCMP checks, first aid certificates and various driver training requirements for some workers.
“The above deficiencies are substantial and their rectification important to ensuring the safety of children to and from the commute to school,” Royle wrote.
The company was given about a month to address these concerns. The department won’t say how many were fixed.
“What I can say is that we’ve been working with the contractor and monitoring progress along that way,” Modha said.
Takhini Transport could not be reached for comment in time for today’s deadline.
Lois Moorcroft, the NDP’s public works critic, said it’s concerning that these problems were identified so early on, and the contract was only terminated just now.
“The requirements of a contract are there for a reason: to make sure that the school children are travelling safely on school buses, which is something that goes on many months of the year on a daily basis,” she said.
Takhini got the $14-million, five-year contract in 2013 after it under-bid the incumbent company, Standard Busing, by $1 million, to provide school bus services in both Whitehorse and Yukon’s rural communities.
Modha said the department’s primary concern right now is to make sure the buses are back on the road in time for September.
“We are currently examining all of our options to see how we can best provide that service. We are confident we will have school buses on the road for the beginning of the school year.”
In June of last year, about 70 drivers with Takhini Transport unionized. It has been a bumpy road.
Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees Union, said last month that the union had tried to get in contact with Takhini Transport for nearly a year to start negotiations. They even threatened to have the federal minister of labour impose a collective agreement.
Meetings between the two sides, complete with a federal mediator, eventually started but no deal has been reached.
According to the union’s website, the drivers “want safe buses and a proper maintenance schedule for all fleet vehicles. They’d like to keep our kids healthy by staying home when they’re sick; they are asking for paid sick leave. They are seeking a first contract, and entrenchment of the Yukon’s fair wage act legislation in that contract.”
Right now the busing contracts are given to the company that bids the lowest.
The Yukon’s fair wage schedule is part of the Employment Standards Act. It sets wages for workers involved with some, but not all, Yukon government contracts.
According to the department of Community Services it only applies to building construction, heavy construction, or road, sewer and water main construction. That doesn’t include school buses.
Changing this would require amending territorial legislation. Moorcoft said she would “absolutely” be open to looking in to adding bus drivers to the list.
“The fact that the school bus drivers organized and joined a union and went through the process of certification and served notice on their employer to meet to negotiate a collective agreement shows that there was room for improvement in the pay scale and the working conditions for school bus drivers.”
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