B.C. Ferries says despite the optics around reducing cleaning services in the midst of the COVID-19 scare, the decision not to renew the contract of an outside cleaning firm that worked on the company’s largest vessels will not affect vessel cleanliness.
In fact, the corporation said, deciding not to renew the contract of the firm will actually result in cleaner ships and efficiencies.
Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries executive director of public affairs, said the contracted firm does overnight cleaning five nights a week on its largest vessels running between the Island and the mainland.
The contract runs out on March 31.
“We made this decision to streamline cleaning on our vessels and improve cleanliness during the daytime when customers are on board and benefit from constant cleaning,” Marshall said.
Asked if the decision to cut the overnight cleaners was short-sighted given the current climate around COVID-19, Marshall said the decision was taken before the outbreak.
“The decision to bring these cleaning services in-house and B.C. Ferries’ response to COVID-19 are not related,” she said. “The overnight cleaners were not providing disinfecting or sanitizing services.
“With COVID-19 we have added staff to focus on cleaning and disinfecting vessels and terminals, as required.”
She said the corporation is looking for an outside contractor to provide disinfectant for the ships. “This contractor would provide expert deep-cleaning services with specialized equipment and tools,” Marshall said.
Marshall said when reviewing B.C. Ferries’ cleaning procedures, they decided to move away from basic cleaning overnight on the ships because their crews were trained to do that type of basic cleaning during the operating day.
“We have added staff as required to complete these tasks. We have issued a [request for proposals] for focused cleaning, which could include steam cleaning, pressure washing, washroom and crew area deep cleaning,” she said.
“Focused cleaning could include the use of deep cleaning equipment and tools that our employees are not trained to operate.”
Graeme Johnston, president of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, said in most cases the union doesn’t concern itself with outside contracts as long as it does not affect the bargaining unit.
“In this case, eliminating after-hours cleaning has put significant extra work on the bargaining unit without extra personnel, which leads to concerns the ships will be less clean,” he said.
Johnston said he understands the contractor in question did not do deep cleaning or disinfecting, but he maintains it is still concerning.
“This does not diminish the concerns of the crews that the vessels are less clean as a result of this change, and that there is a higher burden on employees for overall cleaning,” he said.
Marshall said she understands the concerns of passengers.
“We understand that our customers may be concerned about the spread of COVID-19,” Marshall said. “B.C. Ferries is committed to the health and safety of our customers and employees. The operational plan we are using as a response to the COVID situation allows us to be more dynamic in our approach — they [crew members] are on board, in real time, immediately attending to areas. We can increase response and be more nimble using our in house processes.”