Nfld. & Labrador

Fighting for first pay raise in 8 years, some ferry captains in N.L. look to strike on Friday

The union representing captains on five intraprovincial routes on the island have given notice that they're ready to strike Friday afternoon.

5 routes could be affected as captains look for first wage increase since 2012

Five ferry routes could be affected by a strike starting Friday, including the Fogo Island-Change Islands run normally serviced by the MV Veteran. (Rob Antle/CBC)

Ferry captains on some of Newfoundland and Labrador's busiest intraprovincial routes could walk off the job Friday afternoon as their union prepares to strike, as their lawyer says after eight years of on-and-off negotiations with the provincial government, their attempts at a wage increase and new collective agreement have proved "impossible."

The Canadian Merchant Service Guild represents the captains who helm the province's intraprovincial ferry system, and has given the provincial government notice they are prepared to strike at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

The captains' last collective agreement expired in 2012, and they haven't had a pay raise since, said a lawyer representing the guild in the matter. That's despite all the other workers on the ferries, who are represented by another union, receiving increases as per their contracts.

"It's about fairness," said lawyer Andrew Nielsen.

"The guild is asking essentially at the bargaining table for the ferry captains to be treated the same as all the other public servants, and the employer has so far declined to do that."

According to the expired collective agreement, in 2012 a ferry captain's lowest base salary ranges between $45,000 and almost $70,000 and increases with seniority and experience.

The MV Legionnaire serves Bell Island, and is one of the routes that would be affected should a strike go ahead. (Twitter)

In a statement to CBC News Thursday afternoon, Minister Responsible for the Human Resource Secretariat Steve Crocker said negotiations with the Canadian Merchant Service Guild group have been stalled for the past number of years as the union challenged a number of issues through the Labour Relations Board and a subsequent appeal through the courts.

Five routes affected

In a press release, the province said if the strike goes ahead, the five routes affected will move to an essential service schedule, although the exact times of that schedule have not been released.

"In the event of labour disruption, an essential services schedule would be implemented and communicated to passengers. The department's contracted ferry services would not be impacted," said Crocker.

The routes include the run between Bell Island and Portugal Cove, the Fogo Island-Change Islands run to Farewell, the ferry from St. Brendan's to Burnside, Long Island to Pilley's Island, and the run between Burgeo, Ramea and Grey River.

"The ferry captains are very mindful of not wanting to cause the public undue harm, but at this point, after this long saga, feel they have no choice," said Nielsen.

As ferries are an essential service, Nielsen said, legislation has kicked in to require some of the captains affected to stay on the job, should the strike go ahead Friday afternoon.

"They must continue to work despite the fact that their colleagues are on strike, which, as you can imagine, puts both them and their colleagues in a difficult position," he said.

The union gave the province notice of the strike on Aug. 14, and Nielsen said while the union is willing to resume talks with the government, it won't do so unless the province wants to show some leeway.

"So far, we haven't seen that. And so until that point comes, there's not a lot of point returning to the table," he said.

Crocker said it's government's "desire to work with the Canadian Merchant Service Guild to avoid a service disruption."

In the eight years of negotiations, Nielsen said the matter has come and gone before the labour board, and the province has also rebuffed the union's offer of a third-party independent arbitration. Nielsen said the union is prepared to accept whatever that third party would decide on, and that offer remains on the table.

CBC News has asked the provincial government for comment on the matter. In the press release, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said no other intraprovincial ferries' schedules are affected.

As a federal service, neither is Marine Atlantic.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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