The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has ordered former Ocean Choice workers picketing the company’s Marystown plant to allow the company access to its Marystown plant.
Justice Deborah Fry issued the ruling Monday afternoon, following arguments Friday from lawyers for the company and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW) union, which represents about 240 plant workers who lost their jobs when Ocean Choice International (OCI) closed the plant in early December.
After the closure, workers began a round-the-clock vigil in the plant parking lot to prevent the company from entering the plant and removing equipment.
In her decision, Fry said the workers have the right to picket, but not the right to prevent the company access to the plant.
“The defendants have presented no evidence that they have any right to prevent the plaintiff from accessing their property,” said Fry, reading from her written decision. Fry also ruled the workers are not allowed to picket on company property.
Earle McCurdy, FFAW president, said he didn’t have a lot to say about the decision. “I don’t have much comment to make on that. That’s the court’s ruling,” he said.
“The company clearly has a strategy of moving to, really, no land-based employment from the resources of the Grand Banks as quickly as they can get there, and I think it underlines the importance of the government saying we’ve got to make better use of the natural resource than that.”
Martin Sullivan, Ocean Choice’s CEO, said he wasn’t surprised by Monday’s ruling.
“Normally courts rule to let you have access to your property, so we weren’t shocked with the decision,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve been very respectful of the workers’ rights to make their voices heard and to demonstrate, and all we ask is that they respect the court’s ruling and allow us to get access to our property.”
Sullivan, who noted the workers had already recently moved their picket to just outside Ocean Choice property, said the company needs to retrieve some spare parts for a docked vessel, as well as some freeze-at-sea bags for another vessel.
Allan Moulton, president of the FFAW’s local in Marystown, said the union was considering its next move.
“All I can say now until I see the full report is I suppose we’re not going to tip our hand at anything,” he said. “We are going to assess the entire situation and see what develops from there. It’s a pretty serious issue. It’s people’s lives. You’re talking about people’s livelihoods, so it’s a pretty serious matter and we’re treating it that way, and we will be having a look when we get the full detail of what the court ordered.”
McCurdy wouldn’t say if workers plan to continue picketing off site. “The future will unfold as it will. Who am I to say what someone else will do?” he said. The union president also declined to say if the union plans to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision.
“At this stage I don’t have any advice with respect to that,” he said.
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