New Shipbuilding Contract a Big Win for Trades Workers

The federal government's awarding of a major part of its shipbuilding strategy to BC shipyards will create "hundreds and hundreds" of new jobs for CMAW members, says President Jan Noster.

The $8-billion contract, awarded to Seaspan's Vancouver Pemberton yard in North Vancouver, is expected to result in several hundred carpentry and scaffolding jobs for CMAW Local 1995 members and hundreds more for the Shipwrights Local 506. It is also expected to create over 3500 direct jobs and around 8500 indirect jobs in total over the next 15 years.

"It's great for us and it's great for the province," says Local 506 Business Agent Percy Darbyson. "We'll start off slowly, and as things progress we'll end up with over 800 jobs there."

He adds this new work is a real boom for the 200-member local, which has been struggling to get work over the past 30 years of stagnation and downsizing in the shipbuilding industry.

"It starts off with $150 million in infrastructure upgrades into the yard," Darbyson said. "Added to this is that there likely will be 15-year maintenance contracts for the ships we build."

Both Darbyson and Noster insist that the long-term prospects of this new work are the most exciting. They both worked diligently as key lobbying agents along with other maritime union reps and industry officials to get the contract.

"Once the infrastructure is done on the yard, it means it will be able to bid on more work," Darbyson, says, adding that the infrastructure work alone is a long-overdue development for what was until now a largely stagnant industry. "It means we can bid on BC Ferries other work."

"This is really a big win," Noster said. "It means BC has a shipbuilding industry again."

The contract accounts for the non-military portion of the federal government's $35 billion National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, which is aimed at refitting and upgrading the entire naval fleet. It represents a substantial departure from previous federal Conservative and Liberal government policies of promoting the down-sizing (which they called "rationalization") of the Canadian shipbuilding industry as part of their implementation of NAFTA.

These policies, started by the Mulroney government in the 1980s, helped drive the industry across the country into depression-like conditions, including yard closures and mass layoffs. The industry in BC suffered an additional blow in 2002 when the BC Liberal regime ordered BC Ferries to tender contracts for new ships abroad.

The new federal shipbuilding procurement plan is the first major federal government in over 30 years. The larger military-related projects in the plan will go to Irving Shipyard in Halifax.