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Female engineers file human rights complaint against BC Ferries over lack of change-room space

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A group of female engineers has filed a human rights complaint against their employer, BC Ferries.

The 16 employees said they do not have dedicated and safe places to change clothes and go to the washroom, saying they must pass through a male changing area to either change in a bathroom stall or behind an electrical panel without a door.

“It is very much a men’s world in the engineering department, and it’s been a long time trying to get victories to change that,” Laurence Spencer, the engineering representative for the BC Ferry & Marine Workers Union, told Global News Monday.

“So on the ships right now, many of them have the change room attached to the lunchroom, so you’re sitting down at shift change with the guys getting changed around you, around the lunch table.

“Basically, that’s where the locker space is on some of the vessels. There is a separate locker room space that has a shower and a washroom — a toilet attached to it. But they’re attached.”

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Spencer said there’s no real privacy for any of the women in the engineering department.

The area where female engineers on BC Ferries can currently change. Photo submitted.
The area where female engineers on BC Ferries can currently change. Photo submitted.
The area where female engineers on BC Ferries can currently change. Photo submitted. Photo submitted
The area where female engineers on BC Ferries can currently change. Photo submitted.
The area where female engineers on BC Ferries can currently change. Photo submitted.
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BC Ferries told Global News that it is aware of the complaint but did not have any further comment.

In a statement, officials said they “take these matters seriously and are confident this can be addressed internally and have been working on doing so.”

But Spencer said this is not a new issue and recalled it first being brought up about 15 years ago.

“They have done cursory movement towards the right thing in the past, but it’s always fallen off the side of somebody’s desk and never been followed through on it,” he said, adding they put up a curtain at one point but it disappeared about two months later.

“I’ve been in communication with the company now recently, up until about two weeks ago. After that, I sent out a number of emails. I’ve gotten no reply from any of them.”

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Adrienne Smith, the lawyer who filed the human rights complaint on the workers’ behalf, told Global News the women need a safe and secure place to change and use the bathroom.

“Engineering is an industrial job in the ferry system. These women need to wear coveralls and they’re entering into engine spaces so they need to change out of their civilian clothes and into their work clothes,” they said.

“It’s a health and safety issue as much as a human rights issue.”

Smith explained that every person has the right to go to work with dignity and they should not fear having to go to work and changing their clothes.

“I think if people look around at the women in their lives and have a conversation with them about whether they would like to be caught with their pants down, literally, in the workplace — no one enjoys that. What we want is for women to go to work, to be able to change discreetly and privately, to be able to maintain their dignity when they’re at work and to get on with the job.”

The next step will depend on whether the BC Human Rights Tribunal will accept the filing.

If that happens, the case will move to voluntary mediation supported by the tribunal and if necessary could move to a legal process.

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The area where female engineers on BC Ferries can currently change. Photo submitted.
The area where female engineers on BC Ferries can currently change. Photo submitted. Photo submitted

Spencer said it is time the company made these changes, and that some of the vessels were designed with women’s bathrooms and change rooms, but those were turned into storage rooms and other areas.

“Bottom line: There is no space dedicated to our women in the engineering field,” he said.

“There have been women in the engine room at BC Ferries for over 30 years. It’s time that space is made for them to be welcome in that space.”

– with files from Rumina Daya

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