Cortes Island residents and BC Ferries staff are concerned about the number of ferry cancellations over the last months and how those shortages may impact safety.

A recent BC Ferry annual report attributes a growing number of cancellations to staff shortages, which caused 39 per cent of the cancellations on all routes between July and September of this year. Between Campbell River, Quadra, and Cortes there were 58 sailing cancelled during that time due to crew shortages. In the entire previous fiscal year, those same routes saw a total of 19 sailings cancelled due to crew shortages.

Cortes Islanders rely on the ferry system to connect to Vancouver Island for essential services and resources. Community members in attendance for the most recent public Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) on Sept. 27 had a long list of grievances including safety concerns related to staff shortages.

Rebeka Carpenter was one of those community members in attendance and shared with CKTZ that it was difficult to connect with the company.

“If there’s an issue that you talk to them about, they literally give you a piece of paper that says to contact BC Ferries directly about it. And these are often issues that they’ve been trying to get addressed for a decade,” Carpenter said. “Safety is really my big thing. If you’ve got safety down, I think everything else takes care of itself.”

A BC Ferries worker spoke with CKTZ on the condition of anonymity due to the fear of retribution by their employer. They shared their insight about why they have seen so many colleagues leave the company in recent years.

“It’s things like how they dispute fines and penalties from WorkSafe when there’s a wrongful death. It’s about implementing a payroll system that is severely flawed and is not paying people scheduled overtime.”

“Where the company selectively chooses to favor one group of employees and provide them with housing and not another group creates inequity,” they added.

After two weeks of inquiries related to retaining and housing staff, BC Ferries did not respond with a comment to CKTZ for this story. At the FAC meeting on Sept. 27, Vice President of Strategy and Engagement for BC Ferries Brian Anderson addressed the communities concerns in relation to staffing shortages.

“There’s going to be a lot of work over the next couple of years to fully address these ongoing challenges, but I can assure you that we’re doing a lot,” he responded.

Most recently, on Nov 6, the Tyee reported that Eric McNeely, president of the 4,000-member BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union said, “I have little choice but to believe the worst at this stage, which is to say that the relationship between our members and the management of this company is broken. I see this as nothing less than a total disregard for our members and our families, our needs, our rights, the requirement to put food on the table, and a roof overhead.”

To hear more about how staffing issues are affecting essential travel, listen to the CKTZ News Update below: