Union's 'Serious' Ferry Concerns Merit Response, NDP Critic Says

Ferry workers allege contract change led to 'stark decline in safety standards.'

By Andrew MacLeod 25 Apr 2016 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Safety concerns that the union at BC Ferries has raised are serious and deserve a public response from the company and the government, said Claire Trevena, the NDP's transportation critic.

"We're talking about safety on our marine highway," Trevena said in an interview. "We have serious incidences spelled out really clearly here. There should be a response for people's confidence, not just an, 'Oh, don't worry about it.'"

The B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers' Union is alleging that moving the company's chief engineering positions into management five years ago led to a "stark decline in safety standards" that could have a "potentially catastrophic effect on employees and the travelling public."

The union detailed its concerns in a written legal argument asking arbitrator Vince Ready to reverse the 2010 decision that allowed the top engineers to be excluded from the bargaining unit, The Tyee reported April 21.

It alleged the move is to blame for one crash and several unsafe decisions that it says in some cases broke federal transportation laws and could have, in the worst-case scenario, led to vessels sinking.

Reached by phone, union president Graeme Johnston stressed that to his knowledge nobody in the union released the document to The Tyee and said, "We have no comments for a matter that's currently in arbitration."

Minister unavailable

A spokesperson for BC Ferries, which the provincial government owns, failed to respond to a request for comment after The Tyee published the story detailing the union's allegations. (Before the publication of that story the spokesperson had said the company would not comment while it awaits Ready's decision.)

A transportation and infrastructure ministry spokesperson said Minister Todd Stone was unavailable for an interview Thursday or Friday. Nor did she provide responses after requesting questions by email.

Trevena said the union's safety allegations are concerning and are consistent with what they warned would happen when the decision was made to exclude the chief engineers from the ferry and marine workers' union.

"I have huge respect for the union, and respect this is what they're saying," she said. "If it has had these effects, it's very worrying... I would hope the company and the minister give a response to this."

She said it would be interesting to see what arbitrator Ready decides.

No date has been set for the release of that decision.  [Tyee]

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