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Coast guard union wary of new policies

Jan 06 2012

New overtime policies at coast guard communication centres are putting mariners and others at risk, the union representing workers says.

Following a risk assessment, Canadian Coast Guard has introduced measures where it's not back-filling certain shifts at marine communications and traffic services (MCTS) centres, said Allan Hughes, regional director of CAW local 2182, the union representing the workers. Shifts are being left unfilled to avoid paying overtime to people called in.

The intent is to reduce the number of officers on watch most of the year to save money, Hughes said.

"We're worried something is going to happen. We're going to have an incident that occurs and the communications overload responsibility is going to be so great that something is going to be missed, and it's going to cost somebody their life or their vessel or whatever. The outcome is not going to be a positive one."

The coast guard says it is simply allocating resources when and where they are needed.

"There's no job losses associated with this," said Susan Steele, regional director for marine services. "What it is is basically looking at staff scheduling and best scheduling to balance off the workload with

Feb 18

Feb 18 the available staff. It's about managing overtime."

Usually, there are three people staff communications equipment at all times in the MCTS centres. In the past, if someone could not make their shift, another person was called in and paid overtime. Under the new policy, if the workload is small enough to be done by two people, a third person will not be called in.

When there is a vacancy, supervisors have been asked not to bring in a radio operator on overtime during low workload periods, Steele said.

"Supervisors have the authority if they think that there is going to be a peak in workload during what is traditionally a low workload period, they have the authority to bring somebody in on overtime," she said.

But Hughes said that can be difficult in a centre like Ucluelet, where no one would be on call. The union fears that the reduction of staffing levels will create undue risk to mariners and boaters by leaving inadequate resources to draw on during emergencies.

MCTS centres in Ucluelet, Prince Rupert, Comox, Vancouver and Sidney handle more than 3,000 marine incidents each year and regulate hundreds of thousands of vessel movements.

The union wants Canadian Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to reverse the decision. bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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