Two BC Ferries on the move off the Little River terminal.

Photo Credit: Glen Halverson | Facebook

Firing the CEO Won’t Protect Ferry Workers from Getting COVID

Our highway to the mainland is pretty bumpy these days

Of course staff are missing, they’re sick

Anyone going back and forth will know: getting on the ferry these days is a crap shoot. Delays. Cancellations. Other shenanigans. It’s a wild ride.

Now BC Ferries has turfed their CEO.

Will that fix the ferry problem? Maybe not. It’s like firing the coach in the middle of a bad season. No one knows if that’ll knock the team out of their slump.

The head honchos at BC Ferries blame staff absences for the delays and cancellations. Before the pandemic, they could expect 5 percent of staff would be sick or off work for whatever reason. Now it’s more like 10 or 11 percent.

In a workforce of 5,000 people, that’s 500 staff away on any given day.

The third weekend in July, so many staff were missing from the Salt Spring Island ferries that folks were pretty much stuck there. The only car ferry off the island was to Crofton.

They even hired a water taxi to get foot passengers back and forth.

But the ferry workers union is pushing back against the idea that they’re to blame.

Eric McNeely is the president of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union. He thinks it’s unfair that BC Ferries is blaming workers.

He agrees that lots of staff are off work. But those staff are off work because they’re sick with COVID. When a ferry worker gets sick, they must isolate for 5 days. They aren’t supposed to come back until their symptoms get better and their fever goes away.

“You certainly don’t want to infect the whole crew and we have seen instances in the past where that has occurred, so people are being told to stay at home if they’re feeling unwell but then being blamed for ships not sailing,” McNeely told CHEK News.

With BC surfing into the seventh wave, it’s likely more staff will get sick. Right now, there are no solid plans to protect ferry workers from getting COVID, which could mean more cancellations.

BC Ferries says they have 200 more staff than before the pandemic. But in the COVID era, that doesn’t seem to be enough.

“Blaming the workers that have been coming in on overtime on their days of rest, now blaming them for the system not working, I think, is putting the blame on the wrong people,” McNeely said.

BC Ferries has created most of its own staffing problems. And they’ll take a long time to fix.

Maybe bringing in COVID protections would help keep workers healthy enough to be at work instead of at home in bed.