Looming Seaspan Ferries strike expected to impact Vancouver Island


The Canadian Merchant Service Guild has issued a strike notice to Seaspan Ferries Corporation after meetings with a provincial mediator came to an impasse.

The 72-hour strike notice was issued at 3 p.m. on Jan. 18, which means the union will be going on strike as of the same time on Jan. 21 unless the two groups come to an agreement.

In December, the two groups negotiated what is considered essential service at the BC Labour Relations Board.

Under the agreement, there will be no more than one round trip between Tilbury and Duke Point, and one between Tilbury and Swartz Bay per day.

The trips will also be limited to 30 per cent of the loading capacity, and they will only be able to take essential freight.

A strike would stop the vast majority of Seaspan’s service between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

“Don’t expect all your favourite restaurants to have the food that you’re wanting to go get, expect grocery stores to actually probably become empty, any Rona, Home Depot that is not essential. All that freight comes from the mainland,” said Kendra Slawson, Penta Transport’s Logistics Coordinator.

The BC Labour Relations Board has mandated Seaspan and the union provide essential service levels for transporting critical goods such as food and medical supplies amounting to 30 percent of the company’s normal freight capacity.

Penta Transport says their freight has been deemed essential.

“Not one of our trailers will get over if they’re on strike. Through the entire pandemic, we got deemed essential. We got a letter from the government deeming that we’re essential. We can cross borders. We can continue to work and all of a sudden now we’re not essential,” said Slawson.

Slawson says Seaspan normally does 15-20 trips per day, and she does not believe BC Ferries would have enough capacity to take on the extra freight.

She says she is also frustrated with Seaspan that they were served the strike notice a few days ago and didn’t send it along to their customers right away when the company received the strike notice.

“Seaspan could have done a better job at that as well. Why aren’t you communicating to your customers? We spend millions of dollars a year why aren’t we worth that notice 48 hours ago that was a really frustrating thing,” Slawson said.

She also says this strike could further compound the supply chain issues that have been causing disruptions due to the pandemic and weather-related infrastructure damage.

In a notice sent to customers, Seaspan said it acknowledges the strike will cause disruption and have an impact on Island communities.

A Seaspan spokesperson said they would not be commenting today as negotiations are ongoing and they’re hoping an agreement will be reached before the strike is slated to begin Friday afternoon at three o’clock.

“This means a massive potential for service disruption,” said Dave Dugan, Central Island Distributors Vice President and General Manager.

At Central Island Distributors all their cargo is shipped on Seaspan and while some shipments will be essential most won’t.

“Which for us means instead of 16 to 20 line-haul trailers making it to the island every night [it will be] down to about four,” said Dugan.

Vancouver Island’s transport companies are hoping the two sides can reach an agreement quickly and if not they say people should be prepared to see some store shelves empty.

This is a developing story. More will be added as details become available.

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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