Six civilian workers at the Canadian Forces station in St. John's received layoff notices on Thursday morning, and the union representing them says it is bad news for the workers, but also for the station itself.
The Department of National Defence is spending more than $120 million on the nearly-finished station in Pleasantville — including a state-of-the-art kitchen — but said there is simply not enough demand for permanent, full-time kitchen staff.
David James, local president of the Union of National Defence Employees, said the kitchen will go mostly unused.
"There's going to be a full state-of-the-art kitchen in this building, and it's just going to be sitting there," James said.
He said the bulk of the work in the kitchens takes place on the weekends with groups like cadets, but that has been the norm for the last 10 years.
"The work is still there, it's just not a full-time military work, it's with all the other different organizations that are using this kitchen. It's been like that for 10 years," James said.
"These guys are going to be left on their own as to how to feed their own troops. A lot of these organizations and reserve units don't have cooks, so they're going to be left either catering or bringing in a bagged lunch."
Numbers don't make sense, critic says
NDP MP and Defence critic Jack Harris said the department is following its policy by laying off the staff because there are no live-in personnel, but it still doesn't make sense.
According to Harris, the cost of providing food services through catering or contracting will actually increase costs by about 30 per cent.
"We understand the rationale is that they don't have any in-residence personnel, and therefore their policy says that they don't need to have a kitchen operation," he said.
"There are [Canadian Forces] personnel here that don't have military housing because they got rid of it all, and they decided that they weren't going to have any housing … yet there are in excess of 100 CF personnel attending courses at the Marine Institute doing their specialized training," he added.
"We think this is a retrograde step and we're opposed to this. We want this policy to be exempted with respect to this Canadian Forces station in St. John's."
'I've been used,' worker says
Staff has been working out of the kitchen in the old building for the last two years to continue to provide food services.
Sandra Hutchings, who has worked at the station for 23 years — 10 of those full-time — said she was more than a little surprised to find out they would not be making the move to the new building.
"I was always led to believe that we were going to move into a new building. Everything little thing that we did to help them out was one step further to a new building," Hutchings said.
According to Hutchings, the kitchen staff would work extra hours without overtime pay to help get things running smoothly and cut costs, and were told that it was helping ease the transition to the new building - and they wouldn't be left behind.
"I feel like I've been used for the last two years because they always told us that we were going to go into the new building."
National Defence is bent on cutting more than $1 billion from its budget, and some critics have speculated it could be more than twice that.