Ship­yard ex­pects gap

Of­fi­cials ask­ing for more work to avert lay­offs

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON/PROVINCE -

Hal­i­fax-based Irv­ing Ship­build­ing says it is in talks with the fed­eral govern­ment over a loom­ing gap in con­struc­tion of two new fleets of ships for the navy, which the com­pany warns could re­sult in “sig­nif­i­cant lay­offs’’ if left un­ad­dressed.

The ship­yard wants the govern­ment to give it ad­di­tional work to make sure work­ers don’t sit idle be­tween when the first fleet of Arc­tic pa­trol ves­sels is fin­ished and work be­gins on the se­cond fleet of much larger war­ships.

Work on the Arc­tic pa­trol ships is ex­pected to wind down in 2019.

Con­struc­tion of the war­ship fleet — which will re­place the navy’s frigates and de­stroy­ers — won’t start un­til at least 2021.

Irv­ing pres­i­dent Kevin McCoy says they are an­tic­i­pat­ing a con­struc­tion gap and look­ing to the govern­ment for help in fill­ing it in or­der to stave off job cuts.

McCoy’s com­ments un­der­line the real costs of years of de­bate, de­lays and hand-wring­ing over the multi-bil­lion-dol­lar war­ship project, in par­tic­u­lar, which is the sin­gle largest mil­i­tary pro­cure­ment project in Cana­dian his­tory.

“We know there is go­ing to be some kind of a gap and we’re look­ing at the govern­ment about what makes sense for work dur­ing that pe­riod,’’ McCoy said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day.

McCoy later told the House of Com­mons de­fence com­mit­tee that the gap could re­sult in “sig­nif­i­cant lay­offs.’’

The sur­prise sus­pen­sion last month of the mil­i­tary’s se­cond-high­est-rank­ing of­fi­cer has thrown an­other po­ten­tial wrench in the mix. Vice-Ad­mi­ral Mark Nor­man was deeply in­volved in the war­ship project in his pre­vi­ous role as com­man­der of the Royal Cana­dian Navy.

De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan has said Nor­man’s sus­pen­sion was not re­lated to na­tional se­cu­rity, which has left many ques­tion­ing whether there was any link to the fed­eral govern­ment’s ship­build­ing plan.

McCoy said Irv­ing does not know why Nor­man was stripped of his du­ties as vice chief of de­fence staff on Jan. 16, but he main­tained it has not had any im­pact on the work the ship­yard is do­ing.

“We have not been no­ti­fied. We have no knowl­edge. Nor is it im­pact­ing any of the pro­cure­ments that we’re lead­ing,’’ he said. “We are press­ing for­ward.’’

Irv­ing cur­rently has about 850 em­ploy­ees work­ing di­rectly on the Arc­tic pa­trol ves­sels, McCoy said, many of whom were re­cruited and trained specif­i­cally for the fed­eral ship­build­ing pro­gram.

Not only would a gap mean no work for many for an ex­tended pe­riod of time, McCoy said there is the risk some will leave Hal­i­fax and Canada for jobs else­where.

“If we have a down­turn in em­ploy­ment and they de­cide to leave, then we’re go­ing to have to re­place those folks,’’ he said. “New train­ing, new re­cruit­ing and that will be a cost to the (war­ship pro­gram).’’

Irv­ing re­cently pitched the idea of build­ing a ship specif­i­cally de­signed to re­spond to hu­man­i­tar­ian crises, while McCoy said the com­pany would like a main­te­nance con­tract for the navy’s frigates ex­tended.

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