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Five per cent of BC Ferries workers remain vaccine holdouts despite mandate

Some shipboard workers have already been placed on unpaid leave as vaccine mandate takes effect
BC FerriesMIKE
BC Ferries vessels pictured at the Horseshoe Bay terminal.

With a deadline for mandatory vaccination for shipboard staff drawing closer, 95 per cent of BC Ferries staff have been fully vaccinated.

B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said this week approximately 95 per cent of staff have received both shots.

With a workforce of more than 5,000 people, however, that leaves about 250 workers who have yet to get the jab.

Some ferry workers whose jobs are on board vessels have already been placed on unpaid leave after they refused to get a first dose of the vaccine back in November.

“Some people have been off work for 60 days,” said Eric McNeely, president of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union.

McNeely said while “the vast majority” of his members “are vaccinated and are happy to make that choice,” some have yet to be convinced.

McNeely put the number of workers who’ve already been put on leave at “less than 100.”

But the vaccine mandate, combined with workers who fall ill with Omicron, as well as low numbers of casual workers to call on, could result in problems crewing vessels, the ferry corporation has warned, which could result in changed schedules or cancelled sailings on some routes.

McNeely said the problem could be particularly acute in areas away from the major terminals in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, places where there is a much smaller pool of staff to draw on.

All staff who work on board BC Ferries vessels have been told they must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 24. All other staff (including those who work at terminals) must be vaccinated by Feb. 28.

Ferry workers learned they would have a vaccine mandate put in place, as a federally regulated industry, at the beginning of November. Those who don’t comply have been told they will be placed on leave without pay.

This week, BC Ferries warned the impact of the vaccine mandate, combined with staff sickness from Omicron and an ongoing labour shortage among skilled mariners, could cause challenges crewing vessels in upcoming weeks and even months.

Some sailings to Nanaimo out of West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay terminal were cancelled Tuesday (Jan. 11) because of crew shortages. On Monday (Jan. 10), four sailings were also cancelled on the route between Nanaimo’s Duke Point and Tsawwassen. There have also been cancellations on the Gabriola Island and Texada Island routes, said Marshall.

“We are seeing illness affect employees in a variety of positions around the fleet, and it’s important that staff stay home if they are ill,” she said.

Because of Transport Canada regulations that require particular numbers of crew with certain qualifications for every sailing, even absences of small numbers of crew can result in a vessel being unable to sail.

B.C. Ferries said it plans to move staff between routes if needed, adding no route is expected to be suspended completely.

McNeely said ferry workers have been working overtime shifts to keep the system running.

Marshall said the corporation is posting travel advisories on its website when it anticipates schedule changes or cancellations.