Nova Scotia

Marine Atlantic job cuts gone too far, ferry workers' union says

Union president Brian Jobes says staff cuts are understandable with Marine Atlantic ferry passenger counts way down, but public health requirements have imposed extra duties on employees and the company has cut too many jobs.

Some cuts understandable with passenger counts down, but Unifor says extra public health duties strain staff

The union representing Marine Atlantic ferry workers says staff cuts are understandable with passenger counts way down, but the pandemic is creating extra work and job cuts have gone too far. (Marine Atlantic)

Work aboard the Marine Atlantic ferries that run between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador has become tougher amid restrictions imposed because of COVID-19.

The vessels normally carry up to 1,000 passengers each, but are now only allowed a maximum of 100 each.

Brian Jobes, president of Unifor Local 4285 representing about 700 ferry workers, said staff cuts are understandable, but public health requirements have imposed extra duties on employees and the company has gone too far.

"We are at our lowest staffing levels that I've seen in the 20 years that I've been here, so with the extra work that needs to be done, we don't feel that we have enough people on board to do it, and people are overextending themselves," he said.

Cleaning cabins takes three times longer and staff are expected to enforce physical distancing and self-isolation rules among passengers, Jobes said.

Marine Atlantic's Darrell Mercer said there's a fine balance between having enough staff to do the work and not having too many that would put others at risk.

Schedules continuously adjusted

There are more stringent cleaning protocols, but there are also fewer cabins to clean, he said, and the company has eliminated the restaurant, bar and gift shop.

Management is continuously adjusting schedules, Mercer said, because although the ferries are limited to 100 people, they are usually only carrying 70 to 80 passengers at a time.

"It's simply unfortunate that right now there's so much uncertainty as to what's going to happen in the weeks ahead, so we're trying to make a best-guess judgment of what our employee requirements will be," he said.

The company is doing its best to protect employees, said Mercer.

"We're at a place right now where we think that we're balancing the needs of our customers while protecting the health of our employees, while maintaining our essential ferry service, because ultimately that's what we're all trying to do right now is make sure that this essential ferry service can operate, and we can't do that without healthy employees."

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Tom Ayers

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Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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