BC ferry workers face daily barrage of insults and threats


ITS THE KIND OF THING THAT WILL RUIN YOUR DAY. A stranger yells at you: “I hope your mother gets cancer.” It happens often to Marcel Desjardin. Way too often.

Marcel has 25 years on the job as a BC Ferries operations supervisor. Insults and threats from ferry passengers ruin many days for him and his workmates. The workers are demanding that more be done to protect them from abuse and threats of violence on the job. Their union has mounted the “Abuse is not part of the job” campaign to support them.

“It can get pretty bad,” explains Marcel, “borderline abuse, physical threats, things like that. Last summer, we had a non-paying customer who wanted to board a ferry, and I had an encounter with him where he threatened to stab me.”

The man was only subdued after three police officers arrived on the scene with pepper spray. Marcel says this isn’t an unusual occurrence, pointing out that police are called almost every weekend to deal with irate customers.

It all takes a toll. Last November, Marcel received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by the abuse he’s experienced on the job.

80% suffer abuse and harassment

The BCFMWU (British Columbia Ferry and Marine Workers Union) knows that Marcel is far from alone. In a recent survey it conducted, 8 out of 10 workers reported being victims of abuse, including harassment, violence, and threats. Over half said the abuse affects their mental health.

“Worse still, BC Ferries doesn’t always stand up for their workers—in some cases, management even rewards abusive passengers,” states the union.

Workers say one of the main reasons for the abuse is that infrastructure is lacking, leading to overcrowded ferries and angry passengers. BC Ferries has seen record numbers of passengers over recent years, and made a profit of $52 million last year.

‘I hope your mother gets cancer’

The BCFMWU wants BC Ferries to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards the abuse of its workers. “We’ve been asking for… more than two years,” says Kevin Lee, acting president of the BCFMWU.

The union has put out a video to raise awareness of the issue. The video shows a typical scene, which the union says happens on a daily basis. A customer swears at a BC Ferries worker because they can’t get on the next ferry. It also contains audio of a passenger saying they hope the worker’s mother gets cancer.

Marcel Desjardin urges his workmates to speak out and demand action from the employer. “I’ve lost sleep over it, I’ve lost friends and family over it,” he says. “I think people know that this is a problem, just based on the response we’ve seen from the campaign. It just has to stop.”

Lee stresses that the majority of passengers have been supportive of the workers since learning about the campaign. “I see how the passengers are coming up to the crew and after seeing some of the horror stories, in the media, they’re saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this happened to you, you guys are doing a good job’,” he says.

Lee adds that it’s important for BC Ferries to draw a red line by banning all abusive passengers. Additionally, the union wants the company to provide more deescalation training for staff so they can learn how to deal with challenging situations.

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  • To support the the BCFMWU campaign tweet @BCFerries to urge them to end worker abuse.




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