BC Ferries says a new federal vaccination rule will apply to its staff, but the company is asking for more information on exactly what will be required.
The BC Ferries and Marine Workers Union is also awaiting more details, anticipating a federal interim order by the end of today will provide more direction on what the requirements will be for mandatory vaccinations for crew members.
The federal government announced Wednesday that full vaccination will be required by the end of October for most air- and rail-travel passengers and employees, and for many federal public servants.
While it doesn’t apply to ferry passengers, the requirement does apply to employees of marine operators such as BC Ferries that operate vessels with 12 or more crew members, BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said Thursday.
Marshall said BC Ferries is seeking clarification from Transport Canada “on how the full extent of the requirements will apply to its employees.”
BC Ferries employs 4,500 to 5,100 staff, depending on the season, and it’s estimated about 80 per cent of them have been vaccinated, she said.
As a private company, BC Ferries is not subject to a vaccine mandate for provincial government employees, she said. “BC Ferries supports the federal and provincial and health officers’ position that vaccination is the most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 — for our customers, our colleagues and our families — and to protect broader public health and reduce the spread of the virus,” Marshall said in a statement.
“BC Ferries is meeting with its union and other stakeholders to look for solutions that respect the various perspectives on this sensitive topic.”
Union president Eric McNeely said the new federal rules only affect those who work on vessels, not those in shore-based positions.
The question, he said, is whether BC Ferries will have a blanket policy covering crews on all its vessels, or one that’s only for vessels in the fleet with 12 or more crew members.
That will be the subject of negotiation over the weekend, said McNeely, noting the union is having ongoing discussions with BC Ferries, Transport Canada and its own legal advisers.
A multi-tiered policy versus a blanket policy for all crew members would bring more flexibility and potentially the ability to move people around, McNeely said.
Larger vessels in the fleet that typically have 12-plus crew members include the Spirit and Coastal classes, along with the Queen class and larger vessels on northern routes, he said.
Salish class vessels are on the line, and might or might not have 12 or more crew members. Smaller vessels would have fewer than a dozen crew members.
The union is encouraging members to be vaccinated.