The space behind the switchboard on the Queen of Cumberland- where women engineers have been changing into their coveralls. This space cannot be locked and has five separate entrances, says lawyer Adrienne Smith. Crew members often need to enter to get equipment. This space is typical of spaces women engineers change, Smith says. (Courtesy of Adrienne Smith)

The space behind the switchboard on the Queen of Cumberland- where women engineers have been changing into their coveralls. This space cannot be locked and has five separate entrances, says lawyer Adrienne Smith. Crew members often need to enter to get equipment. This space is typical of spaces women engineers change, Smith says. (Courtesy of Adrienne Smith)

Human rights complaint filed over private change rooms for female BC Ferries engineers

BC Ferries, union rep still in discussions

A human rights complaint has been filed on behalf of BC Ferries female engineers, who want private, secure changing rooms aboard vessels.

The ferry corporation has known of requests for private change rooms for at least 15 years, according to Laurence Spencer, the engineering representative for the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union. Attempts to address the matter have fallen through several times.

“The perception is that they don’t have a safe and secure changing area,” Spencer said. “There was initial movement [from BC Ferries] and then for whatever reason, it was deemed less important than something else and fell off somebody’s desk.”

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The complaint, filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, represents the 16 women working as BC Ferries engineers, a department which employs roughly 500 men in total, according to Spencer. Female maintenance workers in Vancouver will also be impacted by the outcome of the complaint.

Vancouver lawyer Adrienne Smith is representing the employees.

“They’re alleging discrimination on the basis of sex and gender in employment. And this is because they have a very dirty industrial job, they need to wear coveralls in the workplace and they need a place to change into those that the employer is not providing.”

There are bathrooms available for changing, Smith notes, but they can only be accessed by walking through the current changing space, designated for men.

Smith said the result is that female employees are changing in any space on the ship they can find. That includes machine spaces, behind control panels and storage lockers, all spaces that are not secure, contain critical equipment and are frequently used by other crew members.

Spencer said the complaint was highlighted by a recent incident in which a female engineer was changing at the moment when several male colleagues happened to walk by.

“It’s a little upsetting both for the male engineers that she’s working with and for herself,” Spencer said, adding that the engineering department at large is in support of the complaint. Women have been working in the engine rooms on BC Ferries for more than 30 years, he added. The complaints also alleges that the lack of private, secure space for changing leaves room for sexual harassment.

So far, talks with BC Ferries have been positive, Spencer adds. Discussions are ongoing.

In a statement, BC Ferries said it is still working to resolve the matter and will cooperate fully with any investigation, but can’t comment further due to privacy.

The BC Human Rights Tribunal has not decided yet if the case will be heard.

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Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
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