Departure Bay ferry terminal on Sunday, April 5, a day after it was closed for 60 days as part of major service reductions announced by B.C. Ferries. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo will be the community hardest-hit by ferry layoffs, union says

B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union looking at its legal options

Nanaimo is a Harbour City and a Hub City, but not to the same extent during a pandemic.

The president of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union said it’s his expectation that Nanaimo will be the area most impacted by B.C. Ferries’ major service reductions announced Friday.

Departure Bay terminal was essentially closed for 60 days, Duke Point’s regular passenger sailings were reduced by half and hundreds of B.C. Ferries workers were temporarily laid off provincewide as of Saturday, April 4. Graeme Johnston, union president, said it’s his understanding that 1,400 ferry workers in B.C. were laid off.

“Nanaimo and Horseshoe Bay will be taking the largest portion of the impacts of those layoffs, and I expect Nanaimo will be the most impacted area,” Johnston said.

He noted that B.C. Ferries is Nanaimo’s fifth-largest employer with approximately 700 ferry workers and he thinks “half or more” have been temporarily laid off.

“So the impact of this on the community is pretty staggering,” Johnston said, adding that the union feels B.C. Ferries could have taken advantage of the federal wage subsidy to protect jobs, but didn’t. “Which I think is totally careless and callous towards the people of Nanaimo, let alone my members.”

Johnston said the union was aware that closure of the Departure Bay terminal during the pandemic was “certainly” a possibility, but the union’s director of labour negotiations had been “trying to negotiate a practical outcome with the employer for an alternative arrangement that would fit the situation better than our collective agreement provisions.”

He said the employer pointed to reasons why the collective agreement didn’t apply and instead made an offer Thursday night that the union didn’t feel met members’ needs or represented good-faith negotiations. The next day, the service cuts were announced.

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“Through this challenging time, our employees have demonstrated courage and determination to support coastal ferry service,” said Mark Collins, B.C. Ferries president and CEO, in a press release. “Unfortunately, these service level reductions will result in temporary layoffs for hundreds of dedicated and loyal employees. Our goal is to keep the temporary layoffs to as short as possible.”

Johnston said he isn’t sure how impacted ferry workers could ever feel trust toward their employer again. In the meantime, the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union is looking at its legal options.

“We are pursuing full legal recourse and are looking to litigation on this matter if we can’t come to a satisfactory result, which, I think, the prospects are dim,” Johnston said.

READ ALSO: No more ferries will sail from Departure Bay during COVID-19 pandemic

READ ALSO: Stay informed about COVID-19

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