The ferry from Nanaimo to Gabriola Island. Photo by Vista Radio Ltd staff
The thousands of residents of Gabriola Island, and the businesses that provide supplies and services to the Island off downtown Nanaimo, are still dealing with the uncertainty of whether they can get back and forth.
For a week now, BC Ferries has cut the first two and the last four sailing every day, meaning students and other residents have to make sure they catch the supper-time vessel, or leave vehicles behind and ride home in a water taxi.
Ferry workers union President Eric McNeely says part of the problem comes from short notice for members to fulfill the covid vaccine mandate.
“We would agree that there are certainly some impacts being felt, not just in Gabriola, but across the fleet, around this really rapid mandate that was put in place. Our members had roughly 16 days to make a decision, if they hadn’t been vaccinated already, to be vaccinated.
What we see is some of our members looking for the same time that the travelling public has, whereas the travelling public still gets to move around the ferries without any vaccination requirements. Where I hear alot of the members saying ‘well I’m waiting for the Johnson & Johnson (1-dose) vaccine or the Nova-vax would be the right choice for me, but now I’m in the difficult position of trying to determine whether I should wait for that vaccine, or get something that I’m not sure about, and continue working.’
They’re put in a bit of a difficult situation, where they’re having to choose between a personal medical choice, and the ability to pay the mortgage or put food on the table for their families.”
But McMcNeely says there is a chronic problem with a low staffing level on some of the other smaller routes, due to the housing crisis.
“On Gabriola specifically, there has always been a challenge, hiring on to the ferries there. And then if they bring in people from out of the area to work, accommodation has also been a challenge on the Island.
Because the boat ties up overnight on Gabriola, if someone is starting their shift, first shift of the day, they have to be on Gabriola for that. So they either need to be living on Gabriola or have some way of getting themselves to Gabriola. So if they have their own boat, maybe that’s an option. Otherwise, the ferry isn’t running unless they’re on it. We see that difficulty manifest itself on some of the small Gulf Islands and remote areas.”
McNeely also says the corporation is in some ways a “victim of its own bargaining success,” with a contract this year that saw BC Ferries employees receive a 0% wage increase. “There are alot of other marine companies that are looking for the same skilled mariners (that) BC Ferries is, and they’re offering a better quality of life, with higher wages.”
BC Ferries has not yet responded to our request for an interview regarding the Gabriola ferry sailing cancellations. As of the time of publishing, the company says the route will return to a normal schedule on Wednesday, February 24th.