New hybrid ferries in B.C. will cut jobs and make travel unsafe, says union

New hybrid ferries in B.C. will cut jobs and make travel unsafe, says union
WatchBC Ferries' first hybrid vessel comes into service today. But the environmentally friendly solution may have an unintended consequence – it needs fewer crew members.

BC Ferries’s first hybrid, electric/battery-powered ferry hits the water on the Texada Island/Powell River route Wednesday.

“These are electric hybrid ships, so they’re kind of like a Toyota Prius on the water,” said BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins back in January.

It’s the latest and greatest in green technology. But as the corporation was investing in a greener future, the worker’s union didn’t realize it would be at the expense of jobs.

“BC Ferries has informed us they will be looking to eliminate two watch positions, which amounts to six positions overall,” said Graeme Johnston, president of the BC Ferry Workers Union.

“The loss to the [Texada Island] community will be about $300,000 a year.”

And for a community of a thousand people, that’s a significant loss.

“Many people on Texada are working two to five part-time jobs,” said Cindy Babyn, president of the Texada Island Chamber of Commerce.

“I don’t suspect that it would be very easy to replace these very professional, well paid, union protected jobs.”

BC Ferries, however, says it’s not a done deal yet.

“We are currently working through the of the implications and potential impact to jobs regarding the new Island Class ships with the Union. Out of respect for our employees, we aren’t discussing it publicly while these discussions are taking place,” said BC Ferries in a statement.

But it’s not just the potential layoffs that are concerning workers.

Transport Canada updated safety regulations for the new vessels, lowering the number of required crew members.

It’s a change the union says makes things unsafe.

“The regulations require, and quite sensibly, that the crew are able to simultaneously fight a fire and evacuate the vessel,” said Johnston.

“We don’t think that’s possible given the crew of five, and our crew is deeply concerned. One person said ‘I honestly believe people’s lives are at risk with a crew of five.'”

The union says they’ll be taking Transport Canada to court on the issue, filing a judicial review by next week.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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