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Crew shortage behind 4 in 10 BC Ferries cancellations last year, report finds

About four in 10 cancelled sailings on BC Ferries last fiscal year were the result of the ferry service’s staffing woes, according to a company report.

The report found about 1,100 of more than 2,800 cancellations from April 2022 to March 2023 were due to crew shortages. That figure was more than double the 522 crew-related cancellations in the previous fiscal year, and just 25 crew-related cancellations in the 2020 fiscal year.

The data is contained in a report titled Management’s Discussion & Analysis of Financial Condition and Financial Performance, released at the company’s annual general meeting last week.

Click to play video: 'BC Ferries face reality at annual general meeting'

BC Ferries face reality at annual general meeting

The report also found BC Ferries to be facing a shortage of skilled workers, an aging workforce and high levels of illness among staff.

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Transport Canada regulations require marine operators to have a minimum staffing level or they can’t sail.

B.C. Ferries and Marine Workers’ Union president Eric McNeely said the way Transport Canada’s regulations work means the problem is likely actually worse than the public realizes.

That’s because sailings are only cancelled when a crew shortage surpasses a critical minimum. A smaller shortage of crew can result in a vessel being able to sail, only with a reduced passenger load — something that doesn’t show up in the cancellation statistics, McNeely said.

A fully-staffed Coastal Class vessel, for example, can carry about 1,600 passengers and crew, he said, while a short staffed vessel can only carry about 900.

Click to play video: 'BC Ferries vessel out of commission until at least October'

BC Ferries vessel out of commission until at least October

“We’ve seen quite a bit of that, where there’s people looking to travel and you see some pictures online where there’s a vessel that doesn’t have full car decks or the cafeteria is kind of empty, and that could be a result of missing crew who haven’t been able to make it in,” he said.

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“I’ve gone on to ships and the ship has not been fully loaded, and the reason they weren’t able to fully load even though there was plenty of traffic in the parking lot, they couldn’t fully load because they didn’t have enough crew.”

McNeely said the problems are only likely to get worse, with up to 25 per cent of crew eligible to retire in the next five years.

BC Ferries said no one was available for an interview Monday, but in an email said the company is dealing with a skilled worker shortage, an increase in sick calls and an aging workforce.

At the company’s annual general meeting last year, CEO Nicolas Jimenez said the ferry service is facing ridership at higher than ever levels.

For the 2022 fiscal year, BC Ferries reported more than 176,000 sailings.

“That’s 7,600 more than what’s in the coastal ferry service’s contract. And it doesn’t make the news, but 8 and a half out of 10 of those go out on time,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Smooth sailing for BC Ferries this long weekend'

Smooth sailing for BC Ferries this long weekend

Jimenez acknowledged that 2022 tested the company’s resilience, and said it has since made a number of changes to make its hiring more “people-centric.”

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He said the company had eliminated a seasonal job category, allowing people to move into a casual labour class that guaranteed hours, and was key in keeping staff during the peak summer season. It has also improved its employee referral system and made record investments in training and development, both aimed at improving recruitment and retention, Jimenez said.

Those changes have paid off in a reduction in cancellations due to staffing issues, Jimenez said.

“Now obviously there are community demands and needs we’re not always able to meet, at least not in the moment, but we certainly have plans for that,” he said.

McNeely said there are still a number of ways the company can work to address its staffing woes, including emulating a program in Washington state that provides scholarships to train mariners, and finding ways to recruit, train and certify existing un-certified mariners.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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