Provincial Shutdown Dec 26, 2020

Written by USW 9511 Admin on Wednesday December 23, 2020

There have been many questions regarding the shutdown imposed by the province starting Dec 26th, and the way it is impacting our members.  This note should cover many questions people are having.

Why is DriveTest still open if the province is in lock down?

Everyone is encouraged to read the Province’s official summary on the December 26, 2020 Provincewide Shutdown.  This document is a guide to the actual regulations going into effect 12:01AM December 26, 2020.  Not only will it help with the understanding of the situation regarding DriveTest, but will also provide information about other aspects pertaining to everyone’s home community.

This “lock down” is not the same as the previous Provincial shutdown earlier this year.  There is vastly more reliable scientific data on COVID-19 and how it spreads than was available in early 2020.  In the early-2020 shutdown, many more restrictions were put in place out of caution.  This time around, Public Health Ontario is able to make more detailed and specific plans to limit COVID-19 infections, while applying necessary considerations for mental health, financial well-being, and the overall functioning of the province.

Upon reviewing the businesses allowed to continue to be open during this shutdown, there is a considerable difference in the list from last time.  Retailers, restaurants, and many other services are permitted to be open who were not permitted to do so in the spring.  There are sector-specific rules each one must follow to address the risk factors associated with their situations.  A common example is having no customers inside the establishment if it is possible to provide the service or product while they remain outside the premises.  In our businesses there are other restrictions and regulations in place to allow for some services to be carried out, while others are not.  This comes down to the specific risk assessment of specific jobs or roles in a particular business.

DriveTest primarily has three distinct groups for risk assessments.  CSAs have a very different role from DEs, and car examiners (DE2/DE3) have different daily factors that make their risk assessments different from commercial vehicle examiners (DE4) also.  The largest identified infection factors are close proximity and increased duration.  CSAs have aspects of their workday that allow them to manage their potential exposure to infected individuals better than DEs.  CSAs have the ability to manage distance from their applicants, have physical barriers between the applicants and themselves, and typically spend only a few minutes interacting with each applicant.

Both car and truck examiners do not have the ability to adjust the distancing or duration of time spent with each applicant they see in a day.  While conducting tests, both types of examiners must be in very close proximity (in a space with limited ventilation), and for periods of time typically ranging from 15-25 minutes with each applicant.  The major difference between the risk assessment of the driver examiners is the number of applicants they see in a day.  Making the math overly simple, car examiners will see 20 applicants in a day, and spend 15 minutes with each inside the vehicle (for a total “exposure time” of roughly 300 minutes in a day).  Truck examiners on the other hand may see five applicants in a day, and spend 20 minutes in the cab during the test (for a total “exposure time” of 100 minutes per day).  Not only is the total time lower, but the number of connections is dramatically different.  This is both important to limit the spread of infection to examiners, but also going the other way to limit the number of people a potentially ill examiner could impact.  This was a factor in the original recall in the summer, and why DE4s were the first examiners called back when restarting services.

Another factor highlighted in the recent shutdown document is the importance of commercial truck drivers to the functioning of the province.  This is noted in the exemption for commercial vehicle instruction where other driving instruction is prohibited.  The vast majority of goods in this province are moved by truck, and not just the necessities like food and medications.  Factories unable to ship their products out would have to stop production and result in further layoffs.  The huge shift in online ordering and delivery of goods has increased demand for shipping.  The swift and efficient flow of goods is a key component of any economy, and one of the other interests that need to be managed at the government level.

This importance invariably brings up the idea of being “essential” workers.  Essential workers are typically in jobs that would be catastrophic to shut down.  Emergency services, health care, utilities, telecommunications, food supply chain, etc.  These people were not shut down in the previous shutdown, and typically are unable to shutdown for anything.  Many of them go so far as to be legislated as such (read over the Occupational Health and Safety Act’s right to refuse unsafe work and you will note that police officers do not have the same rights as other workers).    We were shutdown in the spring, so there are situations where the risks are too great to justify the work continuing. That is not the assessment currently, with the information available on COVID now. Our protocols continue to be appropriate to manage the risk of COVID-19 infection in our work settings and situations.

The other way “essential” is being used right now is in regards to the people being encouraged to only leave their homes for “essential trips” and there have been many comments made about people’s opinions on whether driver’s licensing transactions are “essential.”  Everyone should take the time to recall slides from our training about the reasons why people get driver’s licences in the first place.  Independence, job prospects, licences being used as identity documents, etc.  The vast majority of us use our cars daily, and many of us have multiple cars in our households.  Reflecting on our privilege before we tell someone else they are being frivolous may be prudent.

One of the most common comments about “non-essential” transactions is regarding “kids” getting their G1 at the moment.  Licensing already has mandatory waiting periods.  This pandemic is going to push beyond a year, but it will not be forever and delaying someone from starting that process and essentially delaying the rest of their lives is heartbreaking and too short-sighted.  An example would be a teenager who is graduating high school in June and planning to go to university in September 2021, but due to their family’s financial situation now has to pick a school close enough to home they can live at home and commute to.  Being unable to drive would wreck that contingency plan too.  Another example would be a teenager who needs to drive to start earning an income, which may be essential to that individual.  We are all in different situations, and it would do us well to not judge others’ definitions of essential trips. The government has not defined "essential" but is asking individuals to make those determinations and sacrifices themselves. Applying our own interpretations on what that means is insensitive.

Ontario has not made many changes to what the restrictions are for Grey Zone areas, and members have been working in DTCs in the Grey Zones this entire time.  DE4s in the grey zone are also aware they were advised prior to this announcement they would be resuming work next week.  It is in no one’s interest (Serco, MTO, USW, etc) to have members working in situations of unmanageable risk.  A service-based business requires there to be healthy workers present at work to conduct the services, so increasing the chances of disruption is in no one’s interest.  We will continue to advocate for our members to be working and earning full pay cheques when possible, and to be working with minimal risk.