Union launches ‘Ships Stay Here’ campaign to keep shipbuilding work in Halifax

HALIFAX — Shipbuilders at Halifax’s Irving Shipyard have launched a campaign to keep their work in Nova Scotia, as concerns mount over the possibility of repair work on Halifax-class navy ships being transferred to Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec.

Members of Unifor Marine Workers Federation Local 1, which represents about 1,000 Irving workers, say the federal government has recently made comments suggesting it plans to move some work to the Quebec shipyard, and they’re uneasy about potential job losses.

“We had received information that the government was taking that work that we do now and sending it out of our province,” said Chad Johnson, a national representative for Unifor.

“The concern is that it greatly impacts the employment levels from the Halifax shipyard.”

Johnson said if there was no Halifax-class work, the shipyard could be in danger of losing about 300 jobs.

Sean Lewis, Irving Shipbuilding’s communications director, said in an email that Halifax has performed this work for almost 10 years “with a cost and schedule reputation to be proud of.

“Halifax Shipyard and our shipbuilders have the experience, proven track record, and capacity to continue maintaining the Halifax-class frigates in their homeport,” said Lewis.

“We are hopeful that the Government of Canada will continue the work at Halifax Shipyard.”

Union officials have launched a petition under their “Ships Stay Here” campaign, asking people to share their support for workers at the Halifax Shipyard.

The union has also included a message that will be emailed to a number of politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Moving a portion of the Halifax-class warship repair work away from its steady home since the early 1990’s is a move based purely in politics and not in the realities on the ground,” the letter reads.

But Frederik Boisvert, vice president of public affairs for Davie Shipbuilding, said in an email that the Quebec shipyard is one of the only remaining ones to have experience with Halifax-class frigates. He said workers there have an “intricate knowledge” of what goes into building and repairing them.

“Our legacy as a centre of excellence for the maintenance, repair and in-service support of the federal fleet is making possible the refresh of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which will lessen the load on the already overburdened shipyards and ensure that the navy and coast guard have the ships they need, when they need them,” he wrote.

Davie Suppliers Association president Pierre Drapeau added: “It is unfortunate that Irving feels the need to once again interfere in Quebec’s business, and worst of all attempt to disrupt the vital work required for our women and men serving in the Canadian forces.”

In an emailed statement to The Canadian Press last week, Department of National Defence spokeswoman Ashley Lemire said the government intends to announce any changes to the planned maintenance of Halifax-class frigates in the coming weeks.

“Given the planned work for the Royal Canadian Navy, an option with two maintenance and repair facilities to conduct this work beginning in the 2020 timeframe is being considered,” Lemire said.

“Keeping these frigates operational is a priority for us, and being able to ensure all the maintenance is done when required is essential.”

Lemire added that Irving is the prime contractor for the Canadian Surface Combatant project, which she said will result in an estimated $30 billion in build contracts for Irving Shipbuilding into the 2040s.

The Irving Shipyard has also received more than $3.4 billion in contracts under the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

The union’s petition comes just a couple of weeks after the official naming ceremony of Canada’s first Arctic and offshore patrol ship, the future HMCS Harry DeWolf. A number of dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony congratulated Shipyard employees on their work on the vessel.

Irving Shipbuilding CEO J.D. Irving told the crowd at the ceremony on Oct. 5: “We believe the best shipbuilding team in the country — 1,900 strong and growing — is right here.”

Irving had also raised similar concerns over its role in the National Shipbuilding Strategy in August, after Davie Shipbuilding was given a $610 million contract to convert three icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Irving and Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards were selected by Canada in 2011 as the only two partners in the National Shipbuilding Strategy, and Irving was worried Davie’s involvement signalled a possible shift.

But Scott Brison, a Nova Scotia MP and president of the Treasury Board of Canada, said at the time that Irving’s role within the shipbuilding strategy is secure.

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