Union says spring break cancellations show BC Ferries still behind on hiring

Click to play video: 'Hiring fairs, new recruits as BC Ferries prepares for summer travel season'
Hiring fairs, new recruits as BC Ferries prepares for summer travel season
BC Ferries says more than 500 staff have been hired for the upcoming summer travel season as the company moves to limit the fallout from cancellations due to crew shortages. Kylie Stanton reports. – Mar 27, 2023

After a week that saw more than a dozen BC Ferries sailings cancelled due to crew shortages, the union representing ferry workers says the company needs to put more money into recruiting.

The cancellations represented a small fraction of the thousands of sailings completed over the same period, but still left families on spring break facing travel headaches.

“We think about spring break and May long weekend as the first two stress tests going into the summer,” B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union president Eric McNeely told Global News.

McNeely said the union wants to see more stability for casual workers, while the company needs to improve pay packages to help recruit and retain Transport Canada certified officers.

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He said many of the recently cancelled sailings involved older secondary vessels, and pointed to the need to put money into recruiting skilled workers for BC Ferries’ maintenance facility.

Click to play video: 'BC Ferries launches app for travellers'
BC Ferries launches app for travellers

The province, which is the ferry company’s sole shareholder, recently allocated half a billion dollars to BC Ferries, with the requirement it keep fare increases below three per cent per year.

McNeely said he’d like to see some of that money used to bolster its workforce.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to look at how we advance people careers within ferries, and that could include apprenticeships, cadet programs, and general development, leadership training of staff existing at ferries and incoming,” he said.

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“If you want to build a workforce that’s resilient for years, you invest in them.”

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the company is focused on recruitment, and has hosted 18 career fairs since February.

“To date we’ve hired 500 staff for the coming peak summer season. Their training starts next month,” Marshall said in an email.

“Feedback from our hiring fares shows us that enhancements made to our employment offers like a set schedule and guaranteed hours are being well received.”

Click to play video: 'BC Ferries revises four-year plan, cites financial and staffing challenges'
BC Ferries revises four-year plan, cites financial and staffing challenges

In a media release last month, B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation suggested the new provincial funding would help reduce fares, along with support the electrification of the company’s fleet.

But speaking with Global News Monday, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said there was nothing preventing the company from using it to shore up its workforce — so long as it can keep fare hikes under three per cent annually.

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“We wanted to positively influence fare affordability for things like double-digit rate shocks on all ferry users and coastal communities, so significant focus of the company on recruitment and retention, on working with safety agencies like Transport Canada, and our money is available to keep rates affordable and allow the company to do all those things it needs to do,” he said.

“Right now it’s between BC Ferries, who made their submission to the commissioner to publish some preliminary findings … I am pleased that there’s a significant emphasis on recruiting and training new employees, succession planning.”

McNeely said the union met with the company last week to talk about its recruitment efforts and that the company’s new leadership appears committed to dealing with the issues.

“BC Ferries has indicated to us that they feel they are well poised to recruit the numbers they are looking to and the certificates they are looking for, be it at the repair facilities or onboard the vessels, so we are encouraged by their optimism,” he said.

“But we also have to be reviewing it critically as we did a review of last year when there was some hiring targets missed.”

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