Nfld. & Labrador

Conciliation sought as N.L. ferry strike drags on

As anger grows in the Newfoundland communities affected by the ferry captains' strike, the premier has asked for external conciliation services.

Strike began Aug. 25, disrupting 5 ferry routes

During the strike, the MV Hazel McIsaac is making one run a day between St. Brendan's and Burnside, plus a dangerous goods crossing on Tuesdays. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

As discontent and anger grows in coastal communities affected by the ongoing ferry captains' strike, the Newfoundland and Labrador government says it is taking steps to seek an end to the labour dispute that has dragged on for more than two weeks.

Premier Andrew Furey — who met Wednesday with mayors of Fogo Island and Wabana, on Bell Island — said he contacted the minister in charge of labour, Gerry Byrne, with a request for third-party conciliation services.

In a statement, Furey said a conciliator could "assist the parties involved in resolving outstanding issues to bring an end to  the ferry disruptions." 

The strike has slashed ferry services on five intraprovincial routes down to the bare bones, and leaders of the affected communities have formed a united front and written to the province, asking for it to enter into arbitration with the Canadian Merchant Services Guild, the union representing the striking captains.

"Time is of the essence as every additional day of disrupted ferry service increases the human and economic toll on our communities that have already been devastated by the events of 2020," stated the letter, signed by representatives from Change Islands, Fogo Island, Wabana-Bell Island, Pilley's Island-Long Island and Ramea.

It's very, very frustrating for a small community.- Veronica Broomfield

The disruptions began Aug. 25 when the captains' deadline to strike came and went without a deal with the provincial government. 

The captains, who have been without a contract or pay raise since 2012, have been asking the government for a raise that would bring their pay in line with other ferry workers.

During Wednesday's meeting with the two mayors, Furey also heard from a representative of the Bell Island transportation committee representative. 

No work, major disruptions

In St. Brendan's, which is being serviced by one round trip a day, Mayor Veronica Broomfield said the island's tiny economy has nearly ground to a halt. The company that trucks out fish from its plant facility is refusing to idle its vehicle overnight in order to truck its fish across to Newfoundland.

That's left the five plant workers — including herself — out of their jobs, she said.

"We haven't worked since this strike come on, because fisherman can't ship their cod there, because there's no truck to come in to take it," Broomfield said.

The MV Grace Sparkes leaves St. Brendan's in the morning, drops its passengers at Burnside, and then returns to the island empty before crossing again in the evening to bring people back to the island, she said, meaning anyone who leaves for a medical appointment, haircut or simply to gas up their car has to stay there all day. 

She said everyone has been affected, from an elderly woman who hitched a ride in a speedboat to see her dying brother, to the owner of the only store, who crossed earlier this week to pick up supplies and had to physically block the ferry in order to get it to take him and his goods back to St. Brendan's on what would otherwise have been an empty vessel.

"It's very, very frustrating for a small community. Because you're so small, they thinks you don't matter, but we matter," she said.

Broomfield wants to see binding arbitration immediately.

Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie said he also supports binding arbitration, as does the the ferry captains' union.

According to a news release, Crosbie says the union has agreed to binding arbitration, and that the captains will return to work if the government enters binding arbitration.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Matt McCann

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