Layoffs at Base 0
Massive layoffs are hitting Base Petawawa personnel.
Civilian employees at Base Petawawa learned last week that 88 of them would be losing their jobs in the latest public service cutbacks by the federal government.
Union officials at the base were informed Thursday that three more positions would be cut bringing the total to 91. At least 1,100 employees with the Department of National Defence (DND) will be laid off or risk losing their current position.
The bad news was delivered to workers last Thursday during town hall meetings convened two hours after Defence Minister Peter MacKay visited the base to announce $49 million in new infrastructure. It has been devastating to morale, said Jeff Daiken, president of Union of National Defence Employees Local 629.
“You have dedicated employees up here. We’re hoping we can have these people employed somewhere else or we can have our numbers down due to attrition,” Mr. Daiken said Thursday adding he was perplexed that DND, with the new helicopter squadron standing up here in 2013, was taking this route. “The base is getting bigger and the work has to be done.”
The cuts here include carpenters, electricians, clerks, base safety officers, secretaries, procurement specialists and general labourers. The base currently employs 600 civilians.
When contacted, the base said they could not comment adding the issue would be addressed by DND. At press time, the department had not commented on the layoffs.
In the March budget, the government announced they would be eliminating 19,200 public service jobs in an effort to trim $2.5 billion annually by 2015. The union has originally estimated 300 jobs were being targeted in this wave of cuts. However, that number jumped to 493 which includes employees at bases in Petawawa, Edmonton, Valcartier and Gagetown.
Since April when they learned of the impending layoffs, the union had been attempting to get more information from the associate defence minister, Julian Fantino and Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the Chief of the Defence Staff. John MacLennan, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees, said the minister’s visit on the same day these layoffs were being announced was “tasteless.” He added he expects more cuts to come for Base Petawawa.
“If they follow the pattern there could be another wave coming at Petawawa,” said Mr. MacLennan. “It’s going to be a busy summer trying to get this information.”
The union charged that the government is moving to contract out the services provided by their employees. However, Mr. MacLennan pointed to a business case the union provided to DND where an independent contractor charged the department $78,000 to transport soldiers from CFB Trenton to CFB Petawawa. If the public service had done the same job, they would have done it at a third of the cost, he explained.
“The military and the public service compliment each other,” he said. “We cannot have a job if there is no military and the military can’t do their job if the public service is not supporting them.”
Some employees may opt to take early retirement or be willing to switch to another department. The remainder will receive pink slips, the union said. Mr. Daiken said the loss of 91 jobs will have a significant impact on the local economy, especially for the town of Petawawa and the city of Pembroke.
“This money stays here,” he said adding that construction contractors building the new transport helicopter squadron hangers come largely from western Quebec. “This is something that hurts everybody. We have qualified members who can do the job better.”
Mr. Daiken said this is the same kind of behaviour that was exhibited by the majority Conservative government in the early 1990’s when several bases were closed, including London, Ontario and Chatham, New Brunswick. At the time, Petawawa was on the chopping block, he said, adding it was saved by former MP Len Hopkins intervention.
“We lost a lot of people, both military and civilian, but at least we still had our base,” he recounted.
The union continues to wonder how the department will deliver the same level of services if they do not downsize the 70,000-strong regular force or 15,000-strong reserve force, reduce infrastructure or close bases.
“I don’t think they have a clear path. They are not thinking this out,” said Mr. MacLennan. “We are asking to see the business case of where they are going to save the taxpayers dollars if they lay off the public service employees because the work is not going to go away.”
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist