BC Ferries vessel Skeena Queen eases into Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island, backdropped by fall colours. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

BC Ferries vessel Skeena Queen eases into Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island, backdropped by fall colours. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

B.C. Ferries union ‘deeply disappointed’ workers not included on vaccine priority list

Efforts underway to lobby province to prioritize, vaccinate transportation workers

On behalf of BC Ferries employees, the marine workers union has expressed “deep disappointment” that members were not included in the province’s plan to vaccinate frontline workers.

On March 18, the BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union released a statement from Jack Bruckman, executive director, emphasizing that members were dismayed when the provincial government announced that ferry workers would not be included in the first round of the AstraZeneca vaccine distribution.

READ ALSO: Swartz Bay ferry worker confirmed to have COVID-19

As B.C.’s age-based community immunization program with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is running ahead of schedule, the arrival of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine meant frontline workers could be immunized sooner than expected, Premier John Horgan explained Thursday. First responders, teachers, childcare professionals, grocery store employees and postal workers were among those listed in the priority group to receive the shot starting in April.

Graeme Johnson, president of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, was disappointed to see the exclusion of marine workers. He noted it “seems wrong” that members’ efforts to minimize risks and continue transporting people safely during the pandemic would result in them not being placed higher on the vaccine priority list.

READ ALSO: B.C. emergency, grocery, school staff get COVID-19 vaccine starting April

According to Bruckman, Rob Flemming, B.C. minister of transportation, has reached out to the union to express support for ferry workers and other transportation employees being prioritized to receive the vaccine.

Bruckman added that the union has begun efforts to lobby the province and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to demand that marine workers be added to the list to receive a vaccine alongside other high-risk workers.

“We are considering public-facing campaigns to draw attention to this wrong decision and put public pressure on a more just outcome for ferry workers,” Bruckman wrote in a release Thursday.

In a statement sent to Black Press Media on Saturday, BC Ferries said it understands that Henry is faced with difficult choices and that “the decisions are scientifically made and evidence-based.”

READ ALSO: BC Ferries confirms worker has COVID-19

“We feel this decision acknowledges BC Ferries is a low-risk site,” the corporation said.

However, a crew living aboard a vessel up north was recently added to the vaccine priority list which BC Ferries was pleased to see, adding it will continue to work with the province to “evaluate all options to vaccinate additional groups within BC Ferries, especially those working in remote settings.”

Over the course of the pandemic, several BC Ferries employees have tested positive for COVID-19. In late March 2020, a crew member out of Tsawwassen terminal became ill and another employee at the same terminal tested positive in August. In February, the corporation confirmed that an employee who works out of the Swartz Bay terminal had tested positive.

With files from Tom Fletcher


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