Over 40 per cent of Winnipeg Transit staff could retire over the next 5 years

A new city report is showing that 44 per cent of Winnipeg Transit staff would be eligible to retire in five years, as Winnipeg struggles with the recruitment and retention of bus operators. Edward Djan has more.

A new city report is showing a staggering rise in the number of Winnipeg transit workers eligible to retire over the next five years. This as the city continues to struggle with both recruiting and retaining staff.

About 44.3 per cent or 608 Winnipeg Transit staff represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) will be eligible to retire in five years, according to the report.

The figure is the tail end of a steady increase of eligible retirements, with 28.2 per cent (388 employees) of staff eligible to retire this year, 31.4 per cent (431 employees) next year, 34.9 per cent (480 employees) in two years, 38.2 per cent (525 employees) in three years and 42 per cent (572 employees) in four years.

There are currently 1,374 Winnipeg Transit workers that are a part of the ATU.

Chris Scott, President of ATU Local 1505 says what’s even more troubling about the stats is that there is a growing number of transit workers who are choosing not to continue to work beyond the date when they become eligible to retire.

“It’s a surprising stat. We always expected that those who are eligible to retire would be increasing in the near future but to those levels––it’s astounding,” said Scott.

“One of the key things in attracting and retaining people is paying them an appropriate wage for the work they do and as the work environment becomes more challenging there’s going to be a higher need to pay a better wage for that.”

The report comes as the city and the union work together to ratify a new collective agreement with transit workers.  Scott says union members will have an opportunity to vote whether to ratify a new tentative agreement next week.

“If people are finding their jobs too demanding or challenging or if they are feeling like their safety is at risk, we know that sometimes they may not even wait till retirement. We are seeing this in healthcare right now, people leaving in droves due to these issues,” explained Julia Smith, an assistant professor of labour studies at the University of Manitoba.

The city has been trying to work on its recruitment and retention problem, including reducing the length of the recruitment process for bus operators from nine months to nine weeks.

There’s also been a focus on improving safety for operators by piloting new shield extensions for operators on buses, rolling out a transit security team, and improving the communication system between bus operators and transit control staff.

“I don’t see safety improvements as a tool to improve retention because every worker in Manitoba has the right to a safe workplace. It should be no different if your workplace moves around or if you are in an office that is stationary,” said Scott.

Amalgamated Transit Union Canada president John Di Nino says transit agencies across the country are facing the same struggles as Winnipeg.

He says to attract more workers, other levels of government need to provide more funding for operational costs.

He also says while the public may think transit workers make a good wage, the way they are paid is contributing to the worker shortage, pointing to how most bus operators are paid for eight hours a day but work split shifts that end up taking 10 to 12 hours of a worker’s day.

“It was a good industry at one time,” Di Nino said. “We need to see more money to attract people to what we say is a fair living wage, something that could sustain a family of two or a family of four.”

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