More relief staff needed to keep Halifax ferry service reliably afloat, says union

Halifax Transit has cancelled a number of ferry crossings this year because of staffing challenges. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

The union representing Halifax Transit workers is calling on the municipality to hire relief deckhands, mates and captains for its ferry service, which has been repeatedly cancelled in recent months due to limited staff.

Ray MacKenzie, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, said there are several job openings for relief crew, but the city has yet to fill all the positions that have been listed.

"We're hoping … to get the staffing in place to make sure the ferry's on a more reliable schedule for the general public," he said in a recent interview.

MacKenzie said there aren't enough workers to fill in for scheduled employees who are off sick or absent.

Halifax Transit has posted on X about ferry crossings being cancelled because of a lack of staff on at least seven different days since April 18.

MacKenzie said the union has been pushing for Halifax Transit to hire additional relief captains who are able to work every position on the ferry.

Ferries cannot run if there is no captain available, he said, and while many workers regularly do overtime, consistent overtime work often leads to burnout.

Union meeting with Halifax Transit

In an email, the Halifax Regional Municipality said cancellations can be blamed on a variety of factors, including mechanical, staffing and weather-related issues.

The city said 652 ferry crossings have been cancelled this year as of June 16.

The recent cancellations raise questions about if Halifax will be able to meet demand for the summer months, when the ferry is a regular tourist attraction, and in the future, when the Bedford-Halifax ferry comes into operation.

"As the project continues through planning, a comprehensive staffing plan will be developed to help meet the current need for transit operations," HRM said in a statement.

On Monday, some regular ferry users said they hoped the city would increase staffing levels to ensure more regular service, especially for the busy tourist season.

The municipality said in the event a ferry crossing is cancelled, it aims to have shuttle buses up and running so passengers are still able to arrive at their destination.

MacKenzie said the union plans to meet with Halifax Transit to discuss staffing issues sometime this week.