The president of the union that represents provincial ferry workers says the province’s decision to decommission the Nonia swing vessel shows the government needs to invest in new ferries.
“That’s a prime example of the costs that you can incur when you try to cut corners,” said Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees.
The vessel was purchased in 1999 for $1.2 million by the then-Liberal government under the leadership of Brian Tobin. The province estimates it has spent $19 million to keep the boat in service, including the purchase cost.
The provincial government said Friday that repairs to keep the Nonia in service now would cost an additional $9 million. The vessel was built in 1986.
Furlong suggests that instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to keep old vessels in service, the province should have a new vessel built in a local shipyard and create jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“That’s just been a money pit since they bought it,” Furlong said of the Nonia.
The province issued requests for proposals in recent months for two new vessels — a 42-metre swing vessel and an 80-metre vessel to replace the Capt. Earl W. Winsor.
On Sunday, Transportation and Works Minister Paul Davis told The Telegram the decommissioning of the Nonia and the retrofit for the Beaumont Hamel resulted in 30-40 layoffs. Workers for the Nonia were laid off in July. It is currently in dry dock.
Furlong said those workers will pursue whatever options are available to them under the terms of the collective agreement. Those options could include a move to exercise bumping rights. That would then require workers to consider moving elsewhere.
“The reality is, these are vessels that are throughout the province,” said Furlong.
She believed there were still three people employed in relation to the Nonia.
Davis told The Telegram Sunday that a ship’s captain and engineer are not typically laid off when a ferry undergoes a retrofit.
The 10-week retrofit for the Beaumont Hamel — one of two ferries that serves Bell Island — was scheduled to begin Monday. It will then take over ferry service from Farewell to Change Islands and Fogo Island. The vessel typically responsible for that run, the Capt. Earl W. Winsor, will then undergo a retrofit.
According to government figures, $82 million was spent in 2012 to operate the provincial ferry service. Revenue from ferry user fees was $5 million.