Shipbuilders at Halifax’s Irving Shipyard have launched a campaign to keep their work in Nova Scotia, as concerns mount over the possibility of repair work on Halifax-class navy ships being transferred to Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec.
Members of Unifor Marine Workers Federation Local 1, the union representing about 1,000 Irving workers, say the federal government has recently made comments suggesting they plan to move some work to the Quebec shipyard, and they’re uneasy about potential job losses.
Union officials have launched a petition under their “Ships Stay Here” campaign, asking people to share their support for workers at the Halifax Shipyard.
“The loss of this work would be a loss for the Nova Scotian economy and families across the province. Logistically and economically, it makes sense to keep the work in Halifax,” read a statement on Unifor’s website.
“With a skilled workforce, supplier relationships firmly established in the region, an ice-free harbour, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Atlantic Fleet based right next door, and decades of experience, our members at the Irving Shipyard are best positioned to continue this work. We have the capacity and the demonstrated know-how.”
The union has also included a message that will be emailed to a number of politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Sean Lewis, Irving Shipbuilding’s communications director, said in an email that Halifax-class maintenance supports 400 jobs at the Halifax Shipyard.
“We have performed this work for almost 10 years with a cost and schedule reputation to be proud of,” said Lewis.
“Halifax Shipyard and our shipbuilders have the experience, proven track record, and capacity to continue maintaining the Halifax-class frigates in their homeport. We are hopeful that the Government of Canada will continue the work at Halifax Shipyard.”
In an emailed statement to The Canadian Press last week, the Department of National Defence spokeswoman Ashley Lemire said the government intends to announce any changes to planned maintenance on Halifax-class frigates in the coming weeks.
“Given the planned work for the Royal Canadian Navy, an option with two maintenance and repair facilities to conduct this work beginning in the 2020 timeframe is being considered,” Lemire said.
“Keeping these frigates operational is a priority for us, and being able to ensure all the maintenance is done when required is essential.”
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Lemire added that Irving is the prime contractor for the Canadian Surface Combatant project, which she said will result in an estimated $30 billion in build contracts for Irving Shipbuilding into the 2040s.
The Irving Shipyard has also recieved more that $3.4 billion in contracts under the National Shipbuilding Strategy.
The union’s petition comes just a couple of weeks after the official naming ceremony of Canada’s first Actic and offshore patrol ship, Harry DeWolf, where shipyard employees were congratulated by a number of dignitaries for their work on the vessel.
On Oct. 5, Irving Shipbuilding CEO J.D. Irving told the crowd at the ceremony: “We believe the best shipbuilding team in the country – 1,900 strong and growing – is right here.”
Irving had also raised similar concerns over a loss of work in August, after Davie Shipbuilding was given a $610 million contract to convert three icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard.
Irving and Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards were selected by Canada in 2011 as the only two partners in the National Shipbuilding Strategy, and Irving was worried Davie’s involvement signalled a possible shift.
But Scott Brison, a Nova Scotia MP and president of the Treasury Board of Canada, said at the time that that Irving’s role within the shipbuilding strategy is secure.