POLITICS

Union seeks answers about planned cuts to civilian defence jobs in New Brunswick

07/23/2012 02:00 EDT | Updated 09/22/2012 05:12 EDT
OROMOCTO, N.B. - Union officials say it's hard to fight the elimination of up to 145 civilian defence positions at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick when Ottawa refuses to explain the rationale behind the cuts.

Morris Shannon, the local president of the Union of National Defence Employees, said government officials won't meet with his union to discuss why those positions were targeted.

"They're not co-operative at all," Shannon said at a news conference here Monday.

"I have been trying for two years to meet with Keith Ashfield and I have yet to receive a meeting with Mr. Ashfield."

Ashfield, the area's MP and the federal Fisheries minister, was not available for comment.

However, a spokeswoman for the minister said there is a process in place for unions to interact with government on workforce adjustment.

"That process does not involve political meetings," Erin Filliter wrote in an email.

"Departments are informing unions and employees about specific changes using workforce adjustment rules agreed to by all sides."

Nova Scotia New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer said the jobs are being cut to correct the fiscal mismanagement of the Conservative government.

"Within a few short years they drained the federal treasury bank ... and they've increased the debt," he said.

"Now they want the workers to pay for their mistakes."

The workers perform a variety of jobs including maintenance, transportation and administration.

CFB Gagetown has been open as a training facility for the army since 1958.

According to the base's website, it is home to about 4,500 military members and 1,500 civilians and contributes over $220 million to the local economy and more than $500 million to the provincial economy each year.

Jeannie Baldwin, regional vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said the cuts are putting stress on employees and the community.

"Will they have to pick up and move? Will they have to change careers or go back to school? Will they be able to make their mortgage payments?" she said.

Since the federal budget, almost 17,000 members of the PSAC have received "affected" notices to say their jobs are at risk.

Baldwin said her union has begun seeking out members of the Conservative government and presenting them with letters to say their jobs are at risk in the next federal election.

Shannon said members of his union will be on hand Tuesday when Defence Minister Peter MacKay is scheduled to make an announcement at the base.

"We'll have members there to let him know that his infrastructure announcement is not a priority here at CFB Gagetown," he said. "We're worried about our people. We're worried about our people's families. We're worried about the people in jeopardy of losing their jobs."

MacKay was not immediately available for comment.

However his office issued a statement.

"The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces have increased the number of civilian full time equivalents by 5,269 since 2006 in order to deliver on key priorities and meet the needs of the increased operational tempo, including the mission in Afghanistan, the email reads.

"With the end of our combat operations in Afghanistan, National Defence is returning to a more normal pace of operations."

The statement goes on to say the department will make every effort to ease the impact on affected employees.