Halifax's shipyard union is not impressed with Irving Shipbuilding’s plan to buy prefab pipes for its Arctic and offshore patrol ships.
Until now, pipes for the build -- part of the massive, multi-billion dollar National Shipbuilding Strategy to outfit Canada’s navy with new ships -- have been ordered in pieces from multiple vendors, and assembled by workers at Irving’s Marine Fabricators facility in Dartmouth.
On Monday, Irving Shipbuilding announced they would be initiating a pilot program to evaluate the benefits of buying fully assembled pipe sections.
In an emailed statement, Irving spokesman Sean Lewis said if the pilot is successful about 30-40 shipbuilders, principally at Marine Fabricators, will be affected. Irving says all will be offered positions across the harbour at the Halifax Shipyard, and Marine Fabricators will continue to employ about 50 shipbuilders preparing and cutting steel plates.
“Each AOPS ship contains over 17,000 pipe assemblies. We estimate that significant efficiencies can be gained by reducing shipping, handling, storage, and inventory costs associated with purchasing pipe material, fittings, flanges, and valves separately and then assembling the pipe sections at Marine Fabricators,” Lewis said.
But Jerry Dias, Unifor's national president, said this plan goes against the spirit and intent of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which is not only to revitalize the Royal Canadian Navy but to support good shipbuilding jobs.
“Members are rightly concerned that Irving is more interested in looking for ways to outsource than (in) fulfilling its commitment to increase Nova Scotia’s skilled workforce,” Dias said in a statement.
“How much money is this pilot project truly saving taxpayers if the income base disappears and ever-increasing portions of the federal shipbuilding money is spent outside Canada?” said Dias.
Irving has not said where the parts will come from, only that any work performed outside of Canada will be offset by making investments in Canada to ensure that “100% of the value of the AOPS contract is spent here at home.”
Irving says initial discussions have taken place with Marine Fabricators' employees and the union, but Unifor says it has received no indication of how long the pilot program will last or what the conditions are for its continuation.