Marine Transportation Services workers have been seeking a new contract with employer Offshore Recruiting Services Inc. (ORSI) this year but their union says negotiations have reached an impasse and job action may soon result.

Lorraine Rousseau, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North regional executive vice-president said in a statement on Nov. 1 that the 80 shore-based employees her union represents, most of whom are based at the Hay River shipyard, have been without a new contract since ORSI was contracted by the Government of the Northwest Territories to provide shipping services at the beginning of 2017.

In 2016, the GNWT purchased the barging operations and assets of the former Northern Transportation Company Limited for $7.5 million after that company went bankrupt. The purchase was made with the understanding that the territorial government would contract out the shipping services to ensure communities downriver could continue to access fuel and other essential supplies.

ORSI took over bargaining earlier this year and since then, the union has been seeking a three-year contract with a two-per cent wage increase each year.

The employer is proposing a three-year contract with a one percent, 1.5 per cent and 1.25 per cent increase each year, respectively.

Rousseau said the union doesn’t feel that the employer’s offer is serious based on northern cost of living pressures and the need for wage and allowance increases to meet them.

A pivotal conciliation meeting is scheduled to take place between the union and the employer on Nov. 3 to try to find common ground.

“So the conciliation meeting, if we cannot garner some type of way forward and if they’re not budging, chances of a strike or a job action (may be more likely),” said Rousseau. “As one member put it best, ‘the Mackenzie River supply chain is at stake.’”

Job action or a strike could take different forms, which would be decided at a later date. It could mean employees demonstrating with signs at the place of employment or doing the bare minimum of work that meets their job descriptions.

Rousseau said if job action occurs, it will have negative consequences for communities and citizens beyond the two parties.

“The effect is not just on the workers or the corporation, but it will be the community and the citizens,” she said. “This is not a case of a deal being limited to these employees or these workers saying, ‘Hey, we want what we want.’

“(Members are ) being very, very reasonable, especially given the circumstances and how long they’ve been waiting.”

Rousseau said the territorial government needs to step in and offer more financial support.

“I call on the GNWT to intervene in this situation. Workers and northern communities are our priority,” she said. “Members deserve a fair deal. As a contractor, ORSI is disconnected from the reality of living in the North.”

NNSL Media reached out to the company at its Newfoundland and Labrador headquarters as well as its Hay River representative, Jonathan Pendergast, on Nov. 2. Both refused to comment or provide an explanation as to the state of negotiations.

A series of questions were left with the GNWT Department of Infrastructure but responses were still forthcoming by publication deadline on Tuesday.

Further updates are expected to be provided by PSAC later this week.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa.. Simon can be reached at (867)...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.