Nfld. & Labrador

Ferries back on water as captains reach tentative agreement with province

Ferries are getting back to normal service on five intraprovincial runs, after a three-week disruption due to the ferry captains' strike.

No details released on tentative deal

The MV Legionnaire passes a fishing boat as it sails towards the dock in Bell Island in a photo shared Tuesday. (Dicks' Fish & Chips - Bell Island/Facebook)
Newfoundland and Labrador's five intraprovincial ferry routes have been hampered by a strike since Aug. 25. (CBC)

A deal has been reached between striking ferry captains in Newfoundland and Labrador and the provincial government, meaning a return to regular service for the five affected routes, and relief for those communities.

Regular ferry service began resuming on Tuesday, after the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure issued a news release just before midnight stating the deal had been made. 

"It's been a long three weeks, and it's caused havoc there with all of our communities," said Wayne Collins, the mayor of the Town of Fogo Island, on Tuesday morning.

The run between Fogo, Change Islands and Farewell was one of the five routes stripped down to essential runs on Aug. 25, when the union representing the province's intraprovincial ferry captains began their strike.

The tourism industry has been devastated here.- Wayne Collins

The captains had been without a collective agreement for eight years and wanted a raise in line with other ferry workers. In a press release Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said the new tentative agreement "attempts to bring captains' benefits and wages in line with other public sector workers in the province."

The captains union, the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, declined to speak about the agreement with CBC News.

Some commuters in Portugal Cove lined up hours ahead of a scheduled ferry to Bell Island during the strike in late August. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The other routes affected by the strike were the Bell Island-Portugal Cove run, St. Brendan's to Burnside, Pilley's Island to Long Island, and Burgeo-Ramea-Grey River.

"It was very stressful, no doubt about that," said Ramea Mayor Clyde Dominie. 

Dominie said he heard many complaints in his community, including from people trying to cross for medical appointments or to head back to work, and running into difficulties and long lineups. The tentative agreement nullifies those concerns.

"Quite relieved, is the major word. Relief for everybody in town, no doubt about that," he said.

As of Tuesday morning, service to Fogo Island was back to normal, but Collins said severe damage has been done.

"The tourism industry has been devastated here," he told CBC News, citing a wave of cancellations in the final weeks of the short tourism season that can't be clawed back.

"It's been lost for this year, which is highly unfortunate. I don't know what it will do to some of the small businesses."

Change the system, says mayor

During the strike, Fogo Island joined forces with other affected communities to collectively pressure the provincial government to find a deal with the ferry captains union or have the process go to a third party to settle the matter.

On Sept. 10 the province announced it was looking to move toward a third-party conciliation process.

But Collins said that move came far too late, as residents and businesses in his area had already suffered.

"It should've occurred before, some other measures should've been taken, whether it be conciliation or arbitration of some sort," he said.

Collins wants the province to make sure such a strike never happens again.

"I think there has to be changes to this, sort of as a system. There should not be an option there to have a strike whereby you affect the islands like this," he said.

On Ramea, Dominie agreed.

"It's our road, it's our highway, and that should not be discontinued or interrupted," he said.

The Canadian Merchant Service Guild will be presenting the tentative agreement to its members in the coming weeks, according to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. 

If ratified, the department said it would release details of the agreement.

Passengers curious about route schedules are asked to call 1-833-653-3779.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Matt McCann and Garrett Barry

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