Engineers get vocal

Ship's Engineers are generally not the boastful, talk for the talk sake types, so generally when a group of them speaks up, it is probably worth a listen. After all, marine engineers are major partners in the pursuit of a ship's ability to perform safely, with optimum quality and efficiency.

Today, the West Coast Ship's Officer Association release a pointed press release, highlighting a simmering situation at BC Ferries, the company that runs a large fleet of vessels on British Columbia's coast, and is an intrinsic part of life in Western Canada. It's been awhile since I visited the association's website, its been around for over 10 years now, starting as a forum, drawing together the grassroots of BC Ferries officers corp.

Although I am not intimate with its genesis, the forum as always been a loosely organized stewing pot of ideas and gripes within the officer corp of the company. Several years ago, the hot topic was the Ferry and Marine Workers Union, predominately made up of ratings and hotel staff, "leading the discussion", leaving the union's officer component feeling "left out in the cold".

I think it is safe to say that this is a shot across the bow of the company's management team. For some time, BC Ferries appears to be adopting a divide and conquer approach to the union. In September they were provided with the ammunition to carry this out. The murkiness of the whole situation, has evidently led to a considerable vocal opposition, leading to this press release, by an entity not affiliated with their official union.

Below is the full press release, and you can find more information, here, on the association who described itself as "...marine engineers, not journalists; ships’ officers, not writers, or editors". They also have a media area that frames their point of view, you can find that here. Local media CKNW's blurb is here. Here's another slightly BC Ferries related newsbit...

Media Release -March 28, 2011
BC Ferries Engineers Sound Alarm

Senior ships’ officers aboard BC Ferries (BCF) are increasingly wary and frustrated about current high pressure management initiatives to exclude them from long-standing membership in the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union.

More than 80% of senior ships' engineers are believed to have refused offers of excluded positions, with salaries and promises of bonuses well above their existing union pay scale. They say it isn't about money.

They fear that losing the protection of collective representation will constrain highly trained, certified and experienced employees from voicing professional concerns about important matters, most notably: public safety and environmental issues.

Engineers’ officers were excluded from the protections of the Labour Relations Code by the decision of a single arbitrator in September, 2010. They are asking the corporation to halt implementation of the unilateral exclusion process while an appeal is underway and currently before the Labor Relations Board.

As well, they are once again calling on BCF executives to consult with them to discuss and
resolve any problems that management identifies in relation to union membership.

As part of the LRB hearing on exclusions, the corporation submitted sworn statements which included generalizations regarding BCF Ship's officers – who ensure safety onboard - that were both negative, and misleading, engineers are saying.

Senior ships’ officers are utilizing The West Coast Ship Officers’ Association ( – a support forum formed in the 1990s – to share information.

Contrary to controversial BCF statements, ships’ officers have a keen interest and key role in implementing and achieving safety, dependability, efficiency, and other BC Ferries goals and objectives.

Like experienced technicians with similar positions on aircraft, oil rigs and power plants, BCF engineers work as supervisory employees far removed from office desks. Their responsibilities include reporting to governing bodies and regulatory authorities.

In January, 2011, engineers from the WCSOA requested a meeting with BCF president David Hahn. His response to their requests to sit down with them was resoundingly negative: “To be clear, I will not be partaking in any meeting with an organization that has no standing and our plan on exclusions is proceeding as planned.”

The world is awash in disasters resulting from risky cost-cutting measures, dangers of pollution, unsafe practices, hazards and myriad other problems which are most apparent to those whose job and skills are focused on monitoring these matters on the scene, on an hourly basis, in this case, below deck. Engineers want to retain this role.

For more than five decades ships’ officers in BC have earned widespread public trust and confidence, as well as an international reputation for excellence. They are now calling on the corporation, government, the LRB, and the public to continue to support a proud tradition of safety, dependability and service in a proven integrated ferry system.

Pictures from various internet sources.

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