Self-isolation exemption prompts work refusal at Irving Shipyard

·2 min read

Dozens of workers at the Irving Halifax Shipyard refused work this week after a contractor from Quebec came in last week and did not self-isolate.

Concerns surfaced on Monday, said Linda MacNeil, Atlantic regional director for UNIFOR, which represents workers at the shipyard.

"They felt their health and safety was in jeopardy and therefore did the work refusal," she said.

Irving Shipbuilding is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar contract to build ships for the Canadian Navy.

MacNeil said the company disclosed Tuesday the contractor had been given a provincial government exemption to the 14-day self-isolation requirement for people entering the Atlantic bubble.

Self-isolation is part of the province's efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

About 90 workers took part in the job action.

Union says job action could have been avoided

MacNeil blames Irving.

"The issue that we see as a union is there was a total lack of communication with the workers, with our members. If they had been more forthcoming and showing that there had been safety protocols being in place, there may have been a different outcome here," she said.

"But when you don't have the communication funnelled through the people that work in the yard, when it involves health and safety, it's obviously not going to work out the way the employer wants."

The work refusal triggered an automatic provincial Labour Department investigation.

The department was at the yard Tuesday.

Not the first time an exemption has been granted

JD Irving spokesperson Mary Keith said the company will respond after it reads and reviews the Labour Department report, expected Wednesday.

The province also told CBC News it will respond Wednesday.

This is not the first time workers at the yard have complained about exemptions given to Irving.

In July, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, revoked an exemption given to executives with Irving Shipbuilding travelling to and from the United States.