It is, of course, a story with two clear sides — perhaps even three sides. Perhaps even more. First, there’s a company, Vale Newfoundland and Labrador Ltd., trying to complete one of the largest projects underway in this province. The company has a signed no-strike agreement, yet it is watching as some of its workers stand outside the gates.
Second, there are those workers themselves, who walked off the job over complaints that the company planned to bring in crane operators from outside the country and pay those new workers more than those on site were receiving. (The inciting incident, for sure, but something the workers say was only the straw that broke the camel’s back — they also talk about rates of pay, housing allowances left unpaid and grievances left undealt with.)
Then, there are the workers’ unions, left in the uncomfortable position of siding with the company — a no-strike deal is a no-strike deal, signed, sealed and delivered.
On top of that, there are those who would love to be working for the wages that the Vale employees have simply walked away from, people who are not shy to say they’d be delighted to be working on the site in an instant — along with more than a few workers who have not crossed the lines, but don’t want to be outside the gates anymore either.
It’s one big mess, and getting worse by the day. Vale has an injunction ordering the employees back to work and the unions have told their members to go back, but for days, nothing has happened.
The provincial government has said very little about what it can do — Terry French, the minister responsible for labour relations, said Friday, “I’m hoping cooler heads will prevail and they’ll go back to work.” Otherwise, cabinet ministers are setting about their usual summer tasks, travelling around the province and announcing government funding as if it were their own wallets they were opening. Vale says the delay is costing millions of dollars, workers aren’t being paid and the stalemate, court order or not, showed no signs of fading on Monday.
Even if the walkout is settled, there are going to be lingering issues. Heck, there were lingering issues before it started, issues that weren’t being dealt with and that were clearly chafing with workers. The clear fact, though, is nothing is going to be solved as long as the sides are staring at each other and doing little more than restating their own positions. Until the workers go back, the only thing that’s getting clearer is the amount of damage being done.
The timing couldn’t be worse, at least in one way.
The irony is that all this is happening at a time when the provincial government is arguing that this province is ready, willing and able to build an offshore module here, while the Hebron consortium argues that there aren’t enough skilled workers to do the job.
This can’t be helping the province’s cause.