One of two new ferries to Gabriola Island shelved Thursday due to staff shortages

It’s unclear how long the staffing uncertainty will persist.

Eighteen sailings between Nanaimo and Gabriola Island were canceled Thursday due to BC Ferries’ continued crew shortages.

Island Gwawis did not operate on Thursday, leading to cancellations. The Island Kwigwis, which shares the Nanaimo-Gabriola route, continued operations.

Cancellations due to lack of crew affected departures across the fleet for several months.

On Sunday, BC Ferries hired a 45-person water taxi to replace canceled service to Salt Spring Island. A BC Ferries official said absenteeism — currently more than double the typical five percent, in part due to COVID-19 — was responsible for Sunday’s cancellation.

It is not known how long the situation will persist.

Brian Cant, spokesman for Tourism Vancouver Island, said his group encourages visitors to check BC Ferries announcements on Twitter as well as its website, bcferries.com, for possible cancellations.

This year, the ferry company hired hundreds of workers, many at entry level, and offered cash incentives to join or join the fleet, as well as bolster its internal recruitment team.

The incentives include $350 for new seasonal workers and $500 for returning seasonal workers, as well as a guaranteed 420 hours of work between mid-May and the Labor Day long weekend, the agency said. BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

Employees who successfully recommend a candidate for a desired position could receive up to $10,000. BC Ferries is seeking personnel for deck positions with a watchkeeping mate certificate or higher and engineer positions with a fourth class engine certificate or higher.

BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union President Eric McNeely said members had gone to work throughout the pandemic, working overtime to keep the system running and hearing absenteeism blamed for cancellations “really stings “.

If BC Ferries had more workers, members would not be called upon to work overtime on their days off or scheduled vacations, he said. “They wouldn’t be too tired, and in some cases they wouldn’t get sick because they’re tired.”

Although BC Ferries has taken some steps to add staff, what has been missed is a retention program for workers already in place, McNeely said.

At the same time, he has heard from members who are on call saying that they are struggling to pay their rent and their bills.

With minimum wage increases in British Columbia prompting many employers to raise wages to attract workers, there’s additional competition for entry-level positions, McNeely said. “Does a worker want to be on a boat away from home for $1 or $2 an hour more?”

Salary and benefits for BC Ferries workers are set out in a contract due for renewal in 2025.

The company asked the union in January for recommendations to improve recruitment and retention, McNeely said, adding that the union responded by suggesting pay changes but was told they were too expensive.

Meanwhile, about 150 employees were placed on unpaid leave when they failed to comply with a federal COVID vaccination requirement but are now allowed to return to work, which about two-thirds have done. , said McNeely.

Michael Richards, who worked in food services for BC Ferries, was among those who were off work because he had not been vaccinated and received a letter of dismissal from BC Ferries this week. He has not returned to work – he said he told BC Ferries he wanted to stay but was worried about the reaction of his colleagues to his return, as well as the impact of the leave on his pension .

The union has filed grievances and has arbitration dates regarding the issues of members placed on unpaid leave.

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