The Telegram (St. John's)
What’s happening at Marine Atlantic?
The workers onboard Marine Atlantic ferries have been working nearly without interruption since the start of the pandemic.
As front-line workers there were inherent dangers with this work, but they did their job to keep a key transportation corridor open. They are by any definition COVID heroes.
Despite this loyalty to customers and the company, Marine Atlantic is regularly conducting invasive and illegal alcohol testing among their staff.
Of course Unifor does not condone intoxication at work, but violating privacy without cause or valid legal basis is killing a flea with a hammer.
The employer’s heavyhanded prevention tactics are worse than the perceived offence.
Don’t just take our word for it, this is also the official opinion of labour arbitrator Bruce Outhouse, who ruled in April 2021 that Marine Atlantic’s random testing of Canadian Merchant Service Guild members was a violation of their privacy.
The employer grudgingly halted the practice among guild members, but has continued to randomly test people working side-by-side with them who are members of
Unifor Locals 4285 and 4286.
Marine Atlantic’s continued testing of some workers but not others shows a disrespect for the workers, the arbitrator and the law.
It doesn’t end with illegal alcohol testing. Marine Atlantic’s management has demonstrated that it consistently won’t do the right thing.
Marine Atlantic is among a shrinking group of employers that refuses to give employees paid time off to get vaccinated (don’t forget — these are the ferry staff interacting with the public on a daily basis).
This employer has also refused to negotiate a minimum number of paid sick days for ferry workers. Instead, Marine Atlantic is happy to force its workforce to choose between staying home without pay or going to work and potentially infecting co-workers and passengers.
Unifor members working for Marine Atlantic are fed up. They have told the management that if the inappropriate random testing continues, they will escalate their response beyond formal complaints.
Passengers should plan to see an escalation of protest tactics among Unifor members working at Marine Atlantic.
The union plans to fight the privacy violations through legal channels but that takes time. With an arbitrator’s ruling in-hand for this very employer at this very workplace, the law is clear and what we’re dealing with is an unco-operative employer bent on having its way, no matter the privacy violations.
The solution for the impending escalation is clear: apply established labour law to all of the workers at Marine Atlantic and work collaboratively with the union to implement safety protocols that are not an illegal violation to privacy and dignity. Linda Macneil Unifor Atlantic regional director