The Canadian Auto Workers’ Union (CAW) Local 2182 is blasting the federal government for planned cuts to Coast Guard centres.
The Canadian Coast Guard intends next month to reduce the number of officers on watch most of the year at Marine Communications and Traffic Services centres. Although no one is losing their job per se, the union is concerned about mariner safety due to inadequate resources during emergencies.
Most centres, including the one in Comox, are manned by three staff members at any given hour.
“What they’re intending to do for a good portion of the year is reduce that down to two on watch at any given time,” CAW Local 2182 regional director Allan Hughes said Thursday. “When we get a day like today where it was beautiful, sunny and calm and now it’s blown up to 30 knots on the water, it doesn’t take long for a lot of incidents to occur.”
Incidents could involve a boater who has run out of gas or fallen overboard, or a vessel that has gone aground or sunk.
“That can happen any time of year, and if you don’t have enough people to handle the communications then you’re in a situation where you’re so busy dealing with one situation you don’t hear somebody else calling for help,” Hughes said. “We’re here to protect people and save lives.”
MCTS centres provide distress and safety communication, traffic services and weather information. Each year, the centre at Cape Lazo regulates 55,000 vessel movements through the Inside Passage, and handles more than 850 marine incidents.
A total of 17 people work at the Comox centre. Other B.C. centres are located in Vancouver, Victoria, Ucluelet and Prince Rupert.
Hughes said the job is complex, requiring training to keep up with changing technology. There’s also entitlements such as maternity leave. The union criticizes government for refusing to pay overtime while accepting the risk “through dollar reduction,” Hughes said.
“Our people work more hours of overtime than anybody else in the federal civil service, which is burning our people out. They’re (Ottawa) not willing to change the number of staff that we have to allow for those things (such as paternal leave). What they’re doing is reducing the number of people that are in the centre in any emergency that happens.”
The union is calling on the Coast Guard — an agency of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) — to reverse its decision.
Calls to DFO were not returned by press time.