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Running a Tight Ship

June 1, 1993 -

Another company that has successfully revamped its labour-management relations is Moncton-based Marine Atlantic Inc., a federal crown corporation that operates a number of ferries in Eastern Canada. In striving for greater efficiency, this company, which employs some 3,000 workers, has adopted what president Terry Ivany calls a "performance management" program. Ivany, who took over at Marine Atlantic in 1989, realized that the company's hidebound and inefficient management style needed to be overhauled. The key to his innovative management strategy was to arouse the interest of all employees and motivate them by giving them more responsibility and helping them improve their performance.

The employees are undergoing extensive training with a view to measure, recognize, and reward excellence in workmanship. At first, workers and their union leaders were reluctant to go along with the new approach. But when they saw that management was prepared to devote considerable money and resources to training and when they began to see results, the mood among the employees improved. Now they take pride in running clean ships, operating successful restaurants, and working hard to raise the customer satisfaction rate, which moved from 72 per cent to 95 per cent among the 2.5 million ferry passengers in 1992.

Cost savings in the last two years have enabled the company to return more than $7 million of its $120 million in annual operating subsidies from the federal government. One such savings occurred when the engine room crew of the ferry Abegweit discovered that changing the angle of the ship as it cut through the waves shaved $600,000 off the annual fuel bill. As Garth Nicholson, senior chief electrician, explains: "Before this [performance management] came in, we just didn't pay attention to things like fuel savings. Now that we got recognized for saving fuel, I think everybody is thinking about it." (Globe and Mail, March 23, 1993)

Management and the employees of Marine Atlantic Inc. are proving that, yes, it pays in more ways than one to look on a business as a joint responsibility rather than a battlefield between two competing interest groups. These workplace improvements have taken place with the active involvement of unionized employees, providing further evidence that even deeply-ingrained habits on both sides of the bargaining table can be changed for the better.