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NAPE won't give up 1 km of highway to private contractors, says union president

NAPE president Jerry Earle is vowing to keep pressure on the provincial government after news came out that it intended to use a private-public partnership to extend the highways. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
NAPE president Jerry Earle is vowing to keep pressure on the provincial government after news came out that it intended to use a private-public partnership to extend the highways. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
NAPE president Jerry Earle is vowing to keep pressure on the provincial government after news came out that it intended to use a private-public partnership to extend the highways.
NAPE president Jerry Earle is vowing to keep pressure on the provincial government after news came out that it intended to use a private-public partnership to extend the highways.

Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, vows to keep pressure on the provincial government over their consideration of a private-public partnership to twin two sections of highway. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

About 80 members of Newfoundland and Labrador's largest union gathered outside Confederation Building in St. John's on Wednesday morning to protest the provincial government's consideration of a private-public partnership to build two new sections of divided highway.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees members were protesting a possibility, revealed in a CBC News story earlier this month, that could see union members shut out of the work.

"The minister talked about 55 kilometres. We're saying not one kilometre. This demonstration is only going to be a very small step that you will see NAPE invoke," union president Jerry Earle told CBC News.

Typically, the government hires private contractors to build roads and bridges. When the work wraps up and is paid for, the department operates and maintains the infrastructure.

Under a P3 agreement, the government enters a contract with a company that builds the necessary roads and bridges and interchanges, and then ensures the road is maintained at national standards for the duration of the contract.

In the proposed P3 highway contract, the winning bidder would also have to clear the highway of ice and snow. NAPE-represented government workers could be replaced on those stretches of highways.

"Private enterprise normally constructs highways. That's not the issue we have. The model he's talking about is what our workers normally do," Earle said.

For example, he said, NAPE-represented engineers plan highways and members do the line painting and snow clearing. Under the P3 model, he said, that work would go to a private contractor, not NAPE members.

No decision on P3 yet

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister John Abbott says no decision on using a P3 model for upcoming highway twinning work has been made.

Given the provincial government's experience with past projects, like the new Western Memorial Regional Hospital, he said, they see an opportunity to use the model in highway construction.

"It's just a means to find a contractor who would design, build and finance and maintain. That's what we did for the buildings and that's what we would look at as an option," Abbott told CBC News. "The jury is still out yet on a decision for us."

No matter the model they go with to build the highway, Abbott said, there will be no job losses. In fact, he said, as infrastructure work expands they will need more people to work on those roads, adding the government is investing in more machinery.

P3 models have been successfully used in other jurisdictions, said Abbott.

"At the end of the day we need to ensure, as we did with our P3 projects to date, is that this represents good value for money."

New ad campaign

Earle said the union is gearing up for a fight and has launched a campaign called "Highway Robbery," which includes a new website as well as radio ads that will soon hit the airwaves.

"We will continue this and this will escalate unless this government, this minister, makes it clear that this work, their work, is not on the line," he said.

Earle said a recent meeting with Abbott made matters worse because he was told that moving toward a P3 model has been in the works for months, predating Abbott becoming the minister.

"They've been working in back rooms on this without any consultation with the union, without any consolation among workers, for many months. Well, the secret is out. Enough is enough."

Approximately 80 NAPE members showed up at a protest outside Confederation Building as people headed into work.
Approximately 80 NAPE members showed up at a protest outside Confederation Building as people headed into work.

About 80 NAPE members protest outside Confederation Building on Wednesday morning. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

NAPE members are prepared to push back, he warned.

"The government will decide where this campaign goes. We can bring it to a halt or we can actually escalate it," he said.

Best value for taxpayers: Abbott

John Abbott, minister of transportation and infrastructure, says a decision will be made in the coming weeks on the future of a replacement for Her Majesty's Penitentiary.
John Abbott, minister of transportation and infrastructure, says a decision will be made in the coming weeks on the future of a replacement for Her Majesty's Penitentiary.

John Abbott, minister of transportation and infrastructure, says no decision has been made on using a private-partnership for the work. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Abbott said it's the union's right to protest privatization.

"Our job as government [is] to make sure as we get the job done, get it done for the best value. And that's why we want to make sure we look at all options in the interest of getting the work done and in the interest of the taxpayer," said Abbott.

If the government does decide to go with the P3 model for the highways, Abbott said, the private firm hired to build the highway wouldn't necessarily be the one to maintain it, but he reiterated that no decision has been made on that either.

"This is not highway robbery by any stretch," he said.

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