British Columbia

BC Ferries lays off 1,400 staff, cancels routes as traffic plummets 80%

BC Ferries has laid off more than 1,400 employees and cancelled a major route between Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island as the corporation faces a steep drop in traffic.

BC Ferries capacity to drop by roughly half for next 60 days, corporation says

A passenger waits for a BC Ferries ship at the Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver, B.C., on Jan. 3, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

BC Ferries has laid off more than 1,400 employees and cancelled a major route between Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island as the corporation faces a steep drop in traffic.

A statement Friday said BC Ferries is seeing an 80 per cent drop in passengers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To save money, the corporation said it is suspending service on the Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route linking West Vancouver and Nanaimo for 60 days.

Sailings are also being slashed for a number of other routes on the South Coast "to better match ferry service to current demand."

"Because of COVID-19, the decline in ferry traffic has been profound. It is unprecedented, and it has happened very quickly," CEO Mark Collins said.

The changes come into effect on Saturday. They will last 60 days. The corporation has never seen such a level of service cuts in its 60-year history, a spokesperson said Friday.

The affected routes include Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen-Duke Point, as well as the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay route. All service on the Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay route is suspended.For northern and mid-coast communities, BC Ferries service will continue to operate at the current off-peak — or winter — service levels.

A BC Ferries vessel arrives at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, B.C., on Oct. 27, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The statement said overall capacity will be reduced by approximately half across the ferry network, compared to this time last year.

A spokesperson confirmed the temporary layoffs in a separate email on Friday. No further details were immediately provided.

The BC Ferry & Marine Workers' Union (BCFMWU) is discouraged by the move saying the layoffs were announced without an agreement with the union in place. 

"The next steps for us are to fight for our members to make sure workforce adjustments are done fairly and in accordance with our contract," said BCFMWU president Graeme Johnston. "If not in accordance with our contract then in another agreement that respects the fairness and dignity of the workers and the families."

He says he would have liked to see BC Ferries apply for the 75 per cent wage subsidy being offered by the federal government.

"That seems like an easy and clear thing to do and that's something urged on employers by the prime minister."

Johnston says catering and galley staff will be most affected by the layoffs. He expects to also see reductions in ticketing and terminal staff.

The corporation said it will monitor traffic during the reduced service over the next two months to ensure essential service is still happening. It will decide when service levels return to normal at a later date.

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