Tuesday brought some normalcy back to select ferry routes around the province.
A day earlier, the provincial government and Canadian Merchant Service Guild, which represents ferry captains, came to a tentative agreement, ending an almost four weeks' strike and marking the return of regular ferry schedules.
The strike started in late August and reduced the number of runs on five routes and caused long delays. The routes affected were Bell Island-Portugal Cove, Fogo Island-Change Islands-Farewell, St. Brendan’s-Burnside, Long Island-Pilley's Island and Burgeo-Ramea-Grey River.
“The past few weeks have been quite stressful for the people who rely on the ferry service for travel to and from their community,” Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Derrick Bragg said in a prepared statement. “I thank them for their patience as we worked to resolve this disruption and thank all marine staff for providing the essential service schedule and accommodating travellers.” Fogo Island Mayor Wayne Collins said he was pleased to see the ferry strike end, but he still had questions about the length of the strike.
“It is great to see (the strike) ended, but we are concerned with the timeframe it took to end it,” he said.
Namely, he was concerned about the impact of losing almost a month’s worth of tourism and local business.
He noted the importance of that time, considering the portion of the tourism season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Things were just starting to somewhat rebound,” said Collins. “You could see a fair number of people travelling to the island and tourists were coming in.
“There were bookings all in advance and all of this was lost. The loss of revenue is huge.”
Prior to the announcement of the tentative deal, ferry captains had not had a new contract since 2012 and were looking to have their benefits and wages brought up to par with other public-sector workers.
Previously, the two sides were at odds over retroactive pay and writing a fixed schedule into the agreement.
The details of the tentative agreement will not be available until it has been brought by the guild to its members and ratified. That is expected to happen in the coming weeks.
“This deal recognizes the important (role) ferry captains play in the public service while at the same time balancing the serous fiscal challenges of the province,” said Steve Crocker, president of the treasury board.
St. Brendan’s Mayor Veronica Broomfield lost three weeks' worth of work at the local fish plant due to the strike.
Other residents opted to make the crossing to Burnside in an open boat to help alleviate the strain of the loss of a regular run.
“I was pleased (to see the ferry resume) because you’ve got people going in open boat,” said Broomfield. “It’s very uncomfortable to lie on your bed at night and know people are having to go in open boat in the morning or in the evening.”
While it was good news Tuesday for the regions affected by the ferry strike, municipal officials believe something has to be done in order to prevent this sort of disruption in the future.
“It’s our transportation link. It is a huge disruption,” said Collins. “There should be some arrangement there by some way to settle this without having a disruption.”
Nicholas Mercer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering central Newfoundland for SaltWire Network