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Shipyard workers win wage hikes, improved health care in contract with Irving

New deal comes after six months of negotiations with Halifax shipyard

3 min read
A worker wearing an orange hardhat leans over a railing, watching a large ship in the water in front of him.
caption A shipyard worker looks out over Halifax Harbour as HMCS Max Bernays is guided by a tugboat. The Max Bernays is one of the navy's new Arctic patrol vessels being built at the Irving shipyard.
Irving Shipbuilding

Unionized Halifax workers voted to accept a new deal with Irving Shipbuilding on Wednesday.

“I think everybody is happy that the stressful part is over,” said Unifor Local MWF 1 president Shannon Sampson, adding members “are excited to move forward.”

She said the deal is a win for roughly 1,100 workers at the Halifax Shipyard.

The four-and-a-half year ratified contract includes increases in wages and health benefits and reduces the length of service required to earn bonus vacation time. Clinical psychology coverage was increased to $1,500 per year from $300. The contract also covers reimbursements for work boots.

The vote comes after six months of talks.

Irving Shipbuilding president Dirk Lesko said in an emailed statement “we are grateful for yesterday’s ratification vote and look forward to working together with our skilled shipbuilders and Unifor Local 1 to support Canada’s Navy.”

A white and blue warehouse sits on the waterfront.
caption Irving’s Halifax shipyard employs hundreds of Nova Scotians.

The Halifax Shipyard was selected by the federal government in 2011 to build a new, multi-billion-dollar fleet of large combat vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy. Through the National Shipbuilding Strategy, Irving Shipbuilding agreed to provide 21 combat and patrol vessels to the navy by 2040.

According to Sampson, some union members were leaving to work for better pay at the nearby Royal Naval Dockyard.

“It’s understandable that they would go, so we wanted [our wages] to be more competitive and comparable with their rates,” she said.

Lesko stated the agreement “provides wages that are competitive with Canada’s Naval Dockyard next door as well as leading industry competitors.”

A significant piece of the ratified contract outlines better support for females in skilled trades, including improved maternity benefits and the official addition of a women’s advocacy program. Lesko’s statement referenced a growing number of women in trades.

Sampson said she encourages women in non-traditional workforces, and she hopes more women see shipbuilding as a potential career.

A new union representative has been added as well, offering support to racialized workers. The racial justice advocate serves to assist Black, Indigenous and other racialized peoples with issues of discrimination onsite. They also help develop anti-racism training and plans for facilities.

With the new deal secured, “this contract helps us grow and welcome a new, diverse workforce,” said Sampson.

Lesko stated it also offers apprentices a consistent wage as they complete their training.


Jan. 24, 2023: An earlier version of this story wrongly indicated that Sampson said the collective agreement included workers at ABCO Lunenburg. It also included engineers, who are staff and not part of Unifor Local 1.

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