The Labour Relations Board (LRB) in Vancouver has ruled that regular sailings of the Francois Lake ferry aren’t essential.
The ruling comes amid some progress in a labour dispute between ferry workers who are members of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) and the employer WaterBridge Equipment.
The two sides reached a tentative agreement on Oct. 24 after two days of negotiations in Kelowna, the BCGEU said in a news release on Oct. 28.
“From day one our members have been focused on getting a collective agreement that addresses recruitment, retention and successorship,” said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president. “This deal does all of that, and that’s what it will take to make these ferries sustainable for the future. I’m very impressed with the hard work from both sides in getting this done.”
The agreement will be reviewed over the next week before there is a vote on ratification.
While the deal is tentative, the LRB’s Oct. 15 decision on essential services stated that if the workers decide to strike only some ferry crossings would be permitted, including sailings for children attending school, ambulances and RCMP vehicles, health care professionals, individuals attending medical appointments and other emergencies.
In late August, 78 per cent of the workers voted in favour of striking.
Eighty staff and auxiliaries work for the ferry service that makes 20 return trips per day between the Northside and Southside of Francois Lake.
Southside residents had hoped the LRB would rule differently, after several people including Cheslatta Carrier Nation chief Corinna Leween spoke to the board in Vancouver and urged it to recognize all sailings as essential for the community.
If regular sailings of the MV Francois Forester ferry are suspended, many Southside residents worry about the inconvenience of driving more than 150 kilometres around Francois Lake to go to work or go shopping in Burns Lake.
A similar labour dispute has been affecting ferry services at Kootenay Lake – east of Nelson – since September.
“Some of the residents in the Kootenays have the same concerns. There are alternatives to the ferries but it requires a lot of driving,” said Guy Pocklington, Information Officer with the LRB.
WaterBridge Equipment, the sister company of WaterBridge Steel operates the Francois Lake ferry, which transports hundreds of people and their vehicles across the lake daily.