By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
The Area Support Unit of London’s Wolseley Barracks is closing. While he couldn’t confirm the date, Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE) national president John MacLennan said more than 34 jobs will be lost with that closure.
“You’re losing the military presence in London, which is the heart of southern Ontario,” MacLennan said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
In total, more than 1,100 civilian employees working at Department of National Defence (DND) military bases and reserve sites will be losing their jobs. On London’s base, that includes people working in everything from property management to vehicle mechanics. There are also a handful of people getting their pink slips who are not with UNDE.
Jennie Strochuk, president of UNDE Local 623, said listening to the closure announcement Wednesday (April 4) was one of the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.
“To see the looks on people’s (faces) around the room today, people that are nowhere near retirement, people that have established families here, honest to goodness, my heart goes out to all of them,” she said, adding the city's high unemployment rate doesn’t help the situation.
“Yes, we can go on a list and ask for a transfer to other federal government departments in London, but they’re all being affected also.”
She added the workers will be given some options on how to proceed, like the transfers, as well as entering the public sector or retiring, but additional information on that component hasn’t been released yet.
These job cuts were announced after the federal budget came down last week, which saw $5.2 billion in savings by the reigning Conservatives. While most departments were affected, DND was told it had to cut more than $1.1 billion in spending by 2015.
In total, approximately 19,000 federal public sector jobs were cut as a result of the budget.
According to an email statement issued by the DND, the department saw a 25 per cent civilian hiring increase — totalling 5,400 — since 2005 to maintain a higher operational tempo, in part to help sustain combat operations in southern Afghanistan.
“Now that combat operations are concluded and the Canadian Forces are facing a more traditional operational tempo, Canadians expect the DND to continue to ensure their tax dollars are put to good use,” the statement read.
London West MP Ed Holder agreed, adding all federal departments are looking to do their part to balance the budget.
“What we’re doing is we’re looking for efficiencies where we can because the DND, just like every other department, is looking to do its share to ensure we balance the budget,” Holder said.
London-Fanshawe MPP Irene Mathyssen argued these job loses will hurt the economy and make soldiers pick up the slack.
“The reality of these cuts means that soldiers will have to take on the jobs currently done by civilian personnel, forcing them to refocus their priorities and burdening them with extra work,” Mathyssen said in a news release. “This will have a serious impact to operations on-base and in our community.”
MacLennan agreed with Mathyssen, adding the union has a lot of questions about some of the decisions DND is making.
“Closing places like London and Chilliwack (B.C.) and Moncton (N.B.), they all do the same thing — who’s going to do the work to support those reserve units?” he said, adding whether the bases close or people get laid off, the employees’ workloads won’t disappear.
“It’s frustrating. They say they’re going to put the military into those jobs, well, the military are deployable at any time, so if they leave there’s an empty spot, a vacancy that … who’s going to do the work?”
When asked whether he’s hoping the department will rescind its decision, MacLennan responded that the union will be talking with DND to “get their rationale why they’re closing down London and other areas.”
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “A lot of positions they identified to be cut does not make sense.”
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