Employer free to reassign tasks to different job classifications: Arbitrator

Agreement allowed for reassigning of duties, layoff of workers for lack of work

A Newfoundland and Labrador employer had the right to lay off four workers when activity on its project decreased — even though part of the reason there was a lack of work was because the duties of the laid-off workers were reassigned to other workers, an arbitrator has ruled.

The Hebron Project involves the construction of an off-shore oil drilling platform to be deployed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. One of its main construction sites was at Bull Arm, Trinity Bay, N.L., where the gravity-based structure (GBS) — a main part of the platform including living quarters — was built before being towed out to the deepwater construction site.

The Hebron Project employed security officers and marine traffic controllers at the GBS construction site. Both positions were classifications within the same bargaining unit.

Security officers also worked at the location where flotilla workers embarked and disembarked. They monitored alarm systems, contacted the emergency response team, tracked the number of people onboard along with their hours, ensured those embarking and disembarking had the proper identification, and oversaw the verification process for workers who had worked a certain number of hours.

In September 2014, the GBS started to be towed out to the deepwater construction site, a process that lasted until March 2015. During this time, four security officers — one per shift during the 24-hours-a-day work in the marine control room — worked in the marine traffic control room on the flotilla because safety managers were concerned the marine traffic controllers couldn’t monitor alarms during the tow-out.

These officers performed additional duties such as making announcements on the public address system, digital readouts, personnel movement and tracking — duties that were usually performed by marine traffic controllers before the tow-out began.

Once the construction of the GBS structure and the tow-out were completed, the workforce decreased from 1,200 to about 850 people. As a result, the Hebron Project laid off the four security officers from the marine control office and assigned their work back to marine traffic controllers.

Employer can’t reassign tasks, claim lack of work: Union

But the Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ Union, Local  779 challenged the layoffs, arguing there was no lack of work for the laid-off security officers as their duties had just been reassigned to marine traffic controllers — duties for which the security officers had been hired.

The union argued the Hebron Project created “a fiction of a shortage of work” but the laid-off security officers had separate and distinct tasks that didn’t disappear and their positions weren’t originally intended to be temporary.

The union also noted that the Hebron Project assigned the tasks of one classification to that of another. Both classifications — security officer and marine traffic controller — were in the same union but had different uniforms, training, distinctions, qualifications, and responsibilities.

As a result, the union argued the Hebron Project could not reassign the duties of one classification in the bargaining unit to another in order to lay off workers in the first classification.

The Hebron Project claimed the security officers assigned to the marine control room were additional personnel added when the volume of work was increased during the increase in size of the flotilla and marine traffic during the tow-out.
Once this stage was completed, the additional work was finished and the volume of work decreased with the number of workers — which dropped by almost one-third. The Hebron Project argued it was exercising its rights to manage the enterprise and control its business.

Collective agreement allowed for changes
Arbitrator Dennis Browne found that the collective agreement provided for the Hebron Project to “determine job content” and “hire, promote, demote and lay off because of lack of work.”

The trade appendix to the collective agreement indicated the recruitment and selection of workers in security-related positions should be limited to individuals who were certified and bondable.

Browne also found that there was nothing in the collective agreement that protected specific jobs or tasks performed by security officers. When the agreement was negotiated, the parties had the option of ensuring the specific work of the security officer classification — such as monitoring alarms — could only be done by that classification and no other.

However, they didn’t do so and, as a result, there was no article supporting the union’s argument that the Hebron Project couldn’t reassign security officer tasks to marine traffic controllers, said the arbitrator.

In addition, the collective agreement gave the Hebron Project freedom to direct the workforce, determine job content and lay off workers where there was lack of work — and there was less work available due to the drop in activity on the project once the tow-out was completed.

“Based on the evidence, the four security officers were hired at a time when marine traffic had increased due to the tow-out of the GBS and the resulting flotilla work which followed,” said Browne.

“Once this work was completed, the workforce and the marine traffic decreased. Consequently, the four security officers were laid off.”

Browne dismissed the grievance and upheld the Hebron Project’s right to lay off the four security officers.

Latest stories