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Exclusion of engineers from BC Ferries union creating 'severe challenge'

BC Ferries switched vessels on the main route linking Victoria to Vancouver and caused a delay yesterday because it lacked a properly qualified engineer.

"It was a crewing issue," said spokesperson Deborah Marshall in an email. "We were short an engineer with the appropriate clearances to sail on the Spirit of Vancouver Island, so we sailed [Coastal] Celebration instead."

The switch to the smaller vessel was made before the 7 p.m. sailing out of Swartz Bay to Tsawassen, resulting in a delay of about half an hour.

A year ago The Tyee reported BC Ferries employees were warning that the publicly owned company's move to exclude senior officers from their union would result in crewing problems that would lead to more cancelled sailings and delays.

Now, in a March 26, 2012 email obtained by The Tyee, Phil Ker, the manager responsible for crew scheduling out of Swartz Bay said the exclusion process has led to a shortage of engineers holding a second class motor ticket, the qualification required for first engineers.

"We have lost more engineers than we have gained and we must now fill the holes from existing or borrowed engineers until we fill the vacancies here in [Swartz Bay]," he wrote.

Vacancies and pending retirements "have resulted in a severe challenge to cover everyone," he said. "The current [first engineers] are not happy as they are not getting time off but unfortunately this will continue until we can get more relief here."

BC Ferries explained via Twitter yesterday evening that the delay was due to the vessel switch, but does not appear to have publicly mentioned the crewing issue. It did issue a service notice saying the buffet would be unavailable on the Celebration.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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