COVID-19: BC Ferries union predicts canceled trips and longer waits when vaccination order begins

The ferry company says it expects minimal disruption when the mandate takes effect on November 15.

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Travelers on BC ferries could face longer wait times and trip cancellations due to staff shortages after a federal COVID-19 vaccine order goes into effect on November 15, union officials warn.


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“There is a real risk that if a significant number of people are not vaccinated or have not been vaccinated on time, there will be service interruptions (and) because of very short staff, BC Ferries will not be able to run a full program of the crossings, ”said Eric McNeely, president of the BC Navy and Ferry Workers Union.

But BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall does not believe the service will be reduced or interrupted.

“We hear that other companies are reporting rejection rates (of vaccines) of one to two percent once the policies are in place,” he said. “While we cannot offer a guarantee, we predict little to no impact to our service given these modeling rates.”

BC Ferries has announced that all employees and contractors who work on board their vessels must receive a dose of the vaccine by November 15 and be fully vaccinated by January 24, but ferry employees who work on land have until February 28 to do so. .


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In a statement, the ferry corporation said Transport Canada set a January 24 deadline for employees on board. BC Ferries chose to include its other onshore employees in its mandatory vaccination policy, but imposed a later deadline for that group as part of its “phased approach to allow for a smooth transition to a fully vaccinated workforce.”

Employees who do not comply will be placed on leave without pay.

McNeely said the ferry corporation has little leeway when it comes to backup personnel. He said BC Ferries has not provided enough training to upgrade current staff to marine specialty positions.

He said historically low staffing levels resulted in all trips on a ship being canceled for one day in August after three employees reported sick.


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BC Ferries has asked employees to declare their vaccination status before Wednesday, but McNeely said less than 30 percent of its 5,000 employees have done so. The ferry corporation seems indifferent to that rate of return.

“The policy has only been in effect for three days. The statements keep coming in, ”Marshall said.

Transport Canada has said it can approve exemptions for medical or religious reasons, but McNeely said some members find it difficult to get them.


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“The problem is having access to a doctor in some remote areas or not having a family doctor even in urban areas (to provide a recommendation for an exemption), so we continue to work with BC Ferries on that,” McNeely said. “But Transport Canada’s deadlines are quite rigid, so the effect it will have on staffing levels is still unknown.”

BC Ferries said it will make efforts to accommodate employees who cannot get vaccinated.

“The company will review and, where appropriate, initiate reasonable accommodation measures, including testing,” Marshall said.

The union is listening to workers who are hesitant about vaccinations and those who oppose providing medical information to their employer. McNeely said some have chosen to retire rather than work in an environment where passengers don’t have to get vaccinated.

“All of that could have a huge impact on service levels,” he said.

BC Ferries will not implement a mandatory vaccination policy for its passengers, despite repeated requests from its union. Transport Canada said it does not have the authority to order passengers to be vaccinated because ferries are considered an extension of a highway and that falls under provincial jurisdiction. The provincial government has said it has no plans to make vaccination a requirement for ferry travelers.

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