With demand way down due to COVID-19, BC Ferries will be sailing through rough seas for the foreseeable future.
As of late last week, the coastal ferry service said its traffic is down by 80%, reducing fare revenue substantially. Its ancillary revenues coming from food and beverage outlets and retail have also been slashed, as these amenities on ships and at the terminals have been curtailed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Deborah Marshall, a spokesperson for BC Ferries, confirmed with Daily Hive that up to 1,400 employees will be affected by temporary layoffs, but she was unable to provide any further details as the ferry corporation is still in the process of personally contacting staff to discuss their options.
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Understandably, the required BC Ferries workforce size has been greatly diminished, given its limited operational levels with far fewer sailings with the routes that use the fleet’s largest vessels.
There have been multiple rounds of service level cuts over the last three week, with the steepest reductions to date made this past Saturday.
The ferry corporation has made an unprecedented decision to suspend its major West Vancouver Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route until further notice. They reasoned that this route carries much less commercial traffic than the other two major routes connecting Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
But major cuts have also been made on the two remaining major routes; the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route now operates with just four sailings each way per day, while the Tsawwassen to Nanaimo Duke Point route runs with four public sailings and four cargo-only sailings each way per day.
This is happening at a time when BC Ferries typically sees a seasonal uptick in traffic, spurred by an increase in recreational and tourism travel. Instead, the first round of layoffs affecting several hundred employees occurred over the weekend.
In a release, the BC Ferry & Marine Workers’ Union (BCFMWU) called the decision for layoffs a surprise and alleges this action may be a violation of provisions in their collective agreement.
The union said the terms of the agreement stipulates all affected employees must receive notice of layoff and an option of severance pay.
“A sudden layoff without notice and other provisions of severance laid out in their collective agreement would be devastating to these workers and their families,” said BCFMWU Provincial President Graeme Johnston in a statement.
“We call on BC Ferries to honour the collective agreement while they adjust to service reductions.”
They have also threatened possible legal action against the ferry corporation.
The pandemic has affected the revenues of all sectors, including the municipal governments of Metro Vancouver, which have collectively laid off several thousand employees over the last two weeks. These employees largely work in shuttered departments, such as public libraries, arts and culture, and parks and recreation.
TransLink has also taken a severe beating in its fiscal house; total ridership is down by 83%, and demand for gas at the pump has plummeted to such a low that gas prices in Metro Vancouver were hovering at just 90 cents per litre on Monday.
Fare revenue and fuel and parking sales taxes account for over 60% of TransLink’s annual operating budget.
However, as of Friday, the public transit authority told Daily Hive they have not had any layoffs. With the depressed ridership levels, TransLink has reduced its frequencies on SkyTrain, SeaBus, West Coast Express, and the conventional buses to cut operating costs.
BC Ferries employs about 4,500 people, while TransLink and its operating subsidiaries employ approximately 7,000 people.