An independent arbitrator has found BC Ferries did not have the right to lay off hundreds of employees due to the pandemic. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

BC Ferries wrongfully laid off hundreds of workers at beginning of pandemic

Independent arbitrator finds layoffs breached collective agreement

BC Ferries did not have the right to lay off hundreds of employees due to the pandemic, an independent arbitrator has found.

Employees were notified on April 3 that the company would be temporarily laying off hundreds of employees due to the profound decline in ferry traffic as the pandemic took hold.

The next day, regular and casual employees began to be laid off.

READ ALSO: BC Ferries revenue down $109 million in first quarter of 2020

Within six days, about 425 regular employees and about 690 casual employees were notified of their temporary layoffs. These employees were told that BC Ferries did not know when service levels would go back to normal, but that every effort would be made to recall them “as soon as [BC Ferries] can.”

In the following days, the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union filed a grievance alleging BC Ferries had violated the collective agreement.

“The employer’s decision was unquestionably disruptive to the lives of its employees, denying them pay and their work identity during a time of crisis. The employer’s only justification for taking these extreme measures was to save money,” argued the union.

According to the ferry service’s quarterly report, BC Ferries lost $62 million – a stark contrast to the net earnings of $12.2 million from the same quarter in 2019. Ending June 30, 2020, first-quarter revenue was $137.4 million, down $109 million year over year.

READ ALSO: Feds offer ‘life preserver’ funds to BC Ferries as pandemic sinks revenue

Starting in May, BC Ferries began to recall some of its employees and by July 2 all regular and casual employees were recalled to work.

Arbitrator John B. Hall found the layoffs breached the collective agreement between BC Ferries and the union. In Hall’s Sept. 28 decision, he noted that the company did not have the right to place regular employees on ‘off duty status’ and that employees should have continued to be paid in accordance with the negotiated salary schedules.

BC Ferries has approximately 4,200 union employees, of those 3,100 are regular and the remaining 1,100 are casual employees. The company also employs about 450 seasonal workers throughout the summer.

Now, determining the remedial consequences such as outstanding wages, benefits and damages will go back to BC Ferries and the union for resolution.

– With files from Nina Grossman


 

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