Seven hundred professional engineers are taking strike action after negotiations with employer Candu Energy broke down over a dispute centred on the increasing use of contractors.
|A recent recruit to SPEA's cause
The general strike is the latest development in an ongoing disagreement over terms and conditions for employees since Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) sold its Candu Division to SNC Lavalin in mid-2011. It has been called by the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA), an independent union representing engineers, scientists, technologists and tradespeople who work for Candu Energy. One of the oldest professional unions in Canada, the SPEA claims to collectively represent most of Canada's nuclear power reactor design expertise.
SPEA's concerns centre on contract negotiations which have been ongoing for over six months. The union began selective strike action with an overtime ban in May. Pension rights, staff seniority and overtime issues have figured in the negotiations. One particular issue that has been highlighted by the union is the increasing use of contractors rather than employees: According to SPEA, scientific and technical staff numbers have been reduced by approximately 25% while the number of contractors has more than tripled since the sale to SNC Lavalin.
The strike does not affect nuclear plant operation, and Candu Energy says it has been in close contact with its customers since before the strike action began on 26 May and is continuing to implement extensive contingency plans. "To date, SPEA's strike action has had no impact on our priority customer commitments," a Candu Energy spokesman said.
The company says it has "worked hard" over several months to negotiate new collective agreements with SPEA and believes that the current offer on the table is "fair, reasonable, and competitive." It pointed out that employees represented by another major union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), have already voted in favour of a new collective agreement similar to that on offer to SPEA. Nevertheless, the company says it is willing to continue negotiation with SPEA and wants to get striking employees back to work as quickly as possible to focus on competing for new business around the world.
The SPEA says that the long-term situation is serious. "Our senior engineers, who have years of experience and expertise are choosing to leave Candu Energy," SPEA president Peter White said.
All of Canada's 18 operating nuclear reactors are heavy-water moderated and cooled, natural uranium fuelled Candu (from 'Canada deuterium uranium') units. The design was developed by AECL, and the technology has been exported to Argentina, China, India, Pakistan, Romania and South Korea. Candu Energy recently signed agreements with the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority on investigations into the possible future use of its evolutionary Enhanced Candu 6 (EC6) reactor for plutonium disposition, and with Turkey to investigate the possible construction of a 3000 MWe plant at Sinop.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News