Civilian workers at CFB Esquimalt brace for job cuts

Union leaders hope attrition, staffing redistribution cushion blow at base

At least 51 full-time civilian defence jobs at CFB Esquimalt will be eliminated by spring 2015.

Of those, 29 positions will be terminated at the Fleet Maintenance Facility, whose workers maintain five Royal Canadian Navy warships and the submarine, HMCS Victoria.

Another 22 full-time positions filled by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Union of National Defence Employees will be eliminated. The union represents 1,200 operational, technical services and office administration workers at the base, the Rocky Point ammunition depot, a supply depot in Colwood and 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron.

“I think it’s a significant impact to the affected members, of course,” said Mark Miller, B.C. vice-president of the Union of National Defence Employees. “But when you compare the hit that (our union’s workers in) B.C. took in relation to the rest of the country, no, we got off (lightly).”

The elimination of jobs comes on the heels of the federal government’s 2012 budget, announced March 29.

About two weeks ago, CFB Esquimalt officials began informing workers at the Fleet Maintenance Facility that they may be potentially impacted.

Many members of Miller’s union also have not yet been told which positions are being terminated, a point which is impacting morale, he said.

Secrecy around the department’s strategic review and deficit reduction action plan, launched in recent years to identify cost savings, adds to the worry, he said. “(It causes) uncertainty and confusion, but it also keeps the Canadian population in the dark, because no one really understands what the big hit is. I think it’s political spin-doctoring and population manipulation.”

Des Rogers, national president of the Federal Government Dockyard Trade and Labour Council (West), agrees, saying, “There’s a lot of very nervous people out there.”

His membership, which includes about 825 workers at the Fleet Maintenance Facility, 12 at the Rocky Point ammunition depot and about 15 at the Nanoose Bay test range, will suffer the deepest cuts out of about six unions at CFB Esquimalt.

Maintenance facility workers have already felt the sting, Rogers said, of about 175 layoffs of term and casual workers over the past year and a half, as work wrapped up on HMCS Victoria.

“(Workers are) constantly being asked to do more with less,” he said.

“Everybody feels the strain.”

Union leaders hope base officials will move workers whose jobs have been declared surplus into positions they say have been left vacant over the past year at the naval base.

Attrition may also help ease the pain, though that option could create stress for workers nearing retirement.

“Not everybody can afford to retire just because they have their time in,” Rogers said.

Miller worries there may be future rounds of job cuts, though likely not as deep nationally.

The defence department’s strategic review and its deficit reduction action plan speak to the need for future and recurring savings, he said.

“That tells me we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Calls to the Department of National Defence in Ottawa were not returned before press time.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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