Monthly Archives: July 2015

Spill report confirms it: Conservative cutbacks crippled the cleanup

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A shady flag-of-convenience shipowner, a major leak of bunker fuel and a coast guard too crippled by cutbacks to respond immediately: It was the perfect storm for the waters of Vancouver’s English Bay last April.

blistering report was released today on the Canadian Coast Guard’s environmental response to the April 8 spill in Canada’s busiest port. It confirms two of the biggest threats to our coasts: the slippery nature of the FoC vessels that the Harper Conservatives are inviting into our coastal trade, and the catastrophic refusal of the same government to respect, fund and strengthen the safety net that backstops the maritime trade that Canada relies on.

For three days after the spill, the captain of the Cyprus-flagged MV Marathassa denied that his ship was leaking. Every day, ITF inspectors in Canada claw at the corporate veil shielding flag-of-convenience shipowners. We know all about intentional dumping of marine pollutants, about unpaid and exploited workers
— and they deny that too.

The report lays the whole mess out in exquisite detail. Harper — hell bent on increasing risky flag-of-convenience shipping in Canadian waters — refuses to protect the marine environment with a strong, fully funded safety net of expert coast guard workers.

Harper had a chance to re-open the Kitsilano base that sat within sight of the Marathassa spill, fully staffed and equipped with spill-response gear. He could have stopped the closure of MCTS traffic-communication centres. Instead, he slapped together band-aid measures that put us all in danger.

Coast-guard cutbacks play out at every single level cited in the report: not enough staff, not enough of them where they’re needed, bases too far from where they’re required, not enough equipment, or communications equipment the agency knew was insufficient — not even enough routine exercises to keep staff current with procedures.

If you care about safety, you budget enough money for staff, training and equipment. You don’t leave emergency response crew fishing around for their own personal cellphones and laptops to keep in touch during an incident.  (Read the report. It happened.)

John Butler, former assistant commissioner for the coast guard in the Atlantic region, produced the detailed report on “key factors” affecting how Canada’s maritime safety agencies — including the wing of the Ministry of the Environment that helps with assessments and advice — responded last April when a passing sailboat reported oil in the anchorage waters of English Bay.

We’ve picked out some of the most troubling findings, but there’s no better way to sum up the flavour of the whole mess than by reproducing one of the report’s recommendations verbatim. It reads (and we kid you not): Continue reading

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We’re ashore for the week

The ITF in Canada is on shore leave this week. We’ll be back this weekend with a great Saturday Listen for you.

Meantime, we want to thank you all for your interest and your support — and your questions. It’s been a great launch.

Feel free to contact us with any comments or suggestions for posts you’d like to see. There’s a button directly above that has our details.

Safe sailing.

 

Your Saturday listen: We get schooled by the sisters

Jacqui and Mich DockersPodcast

The ITF’s Jacqueline Smith and the MUA’s Mich-Elle Meyers talk with the ILWU Dockers Podcast team in Hawaii in June, 2015.

In this week’s must-listen, the Dockers Podcast team gets schooled by big sisters Jacqueline Smith, ITF maritime coordinator, and Mich-Elle Myers, national officer and women’s liaison of the Maritime Union of Australia. Nobody demonstrates the strength of women in the labour movement or the critical role of female leaders — or takes on the podcasters so eloquently after a late night of conventioneering — like these two.

You can enjoy the podcast here.

It’s an age-old fight, but the stakes have just been raised. And so has our determination.

Here’s a question for Canadians: The boss has just sacked you and your workmates and on your final shift, you’re ordered to sail your workplace over to a country where foreign workers who will be paid $2 an hour are waiting to take your jobs. Are you good with that?

For the 36 Australian crew of the MV Alexander Spirit — at sea as we write, sailing their tanker from Tasmania to Singapore to hand it off to foreign crew — the answer was obvious. They’re mad as hell that the work of delivering fuel from Australian refineries to Australian ports has been taken out of Australian workers’  hands. And after losing their long struggle to protect the work, they’re demanding their fellow citizens put a stop to the Abbott government’s program of allowing flag-of-convenience shipowners to steal their jobs.

We offer them our unwavering solidarity.

Equally, we offer Canada this warning: the Abbott agenda is being rolled out with unparalleled enthusiasm by the Harper Conservatives. As part of the trade deal our prime minister is scrambling to complete with Europe, Canadian-registered domestic shipping would be offered up to FOC vessels — opening our three coasts to foreign shipowners with no connection to Canada or our maritime communities, with no responsibility for our marine environment, operating as they do in the hyper-competitive, race-to-the-bottom market that FOC shipping represents.

It represents an ugly future for Canada. The pain that is now being felt in Australia, that has already been felt in Chile and all of Europe, including Norway, which is losing its national offshore oil-and-gas-sector vessels to flags of convenience, is heading our way.

To quote our Australian brothers and sisters at sea tonight, this must stop now.

Here is the stirring statement made by the crew of the Alexander Spirit before their departure. (The first sentence refers to crew changes that were made to replace seafarers suffering from stress-related illness).

“When the crew compliment exceeds minimum manning it is our intention to sail, it has always been our intention to sail. This does not allay our anger and disgust at Caltex and other oil majors such as BP, Viva, Shell and Mobil selling out Australian jobs.

The importance of every Australian to understand that it is no longer your right to have a job in this country must be pursued and every Australian must accept that they must fight rogue governments that align themselves with multinationals, such as the oil majors who are hell bent in exploiting third world labor at our expense.

The Abbott Government is trying to remove legislation and regulation around the right for Australian seafarers to work on their own coast, which not only encourage investment in the local industry but also serve to protect our environment and prevent exploitation of overseas workers.

The fact is Flag of Convenience (FOC) shipping is bad for Australia; it is bad for the world. Evidence clearly shows that FOC and the absence of any clear regulation of labour standards , safety standards and environmental standards has proven to be the ultimate race to the bottom.

You only have to look at the grounding of the Pasha Bulker in 2007, and the Kirki -= an oil tanker that fell apart at sea off the coast of Western Australia in 1991 — are living proof that Australia’s pristine coast is not immune to a catastrophic environmental disaster.

Further reports from Four Corners Sage Sagittarius (the Death Ship) and a recent series of articles in the New York Times continue to highlight multinational companies’ blatant disregard for lawful conduct and accountability whilst they set up their business arrangements in registered tax havens and make all attempts to dodge any scrutiny of their unacceptable behaviour.

This disregard of national legislation, regulation and workers’ rights is leading the charge and setting the example for other multi-nationals in other industries such as car manufacturing, ship building and mining to follow suit and kill-off job opportunities for Australians now and for generations to come.

It must stop now.

Australia is already down to four refineries and two Australian-flagged vessels carrying fuel around our coast, compared to eight refineries and 11 vessels in 1996. We now import 91 per cent of our fuel, which is largely transported by foreign vessels with foreign crews paid as little as $2 an hour.

When the Alexander Spirit goes, the island state of Tasmania will be entirely dependent on international ships with foreign crews supplying its petrol. The rest of Australia will be in the same position within a few years unless something is done. The local community in Devonport has been tremendous. The continued support around the clock in cold, unforgiving conditions at the community picket has been overwhelming. The community has continued to devote itself to the task of standing up for Australian workers first.

Australian workers, all workers around the world should have the right to stand up against bad laws, fight against multinational greed and raise awareness to others about injustice in the workplace.

A collective is stronger than an individual and we should have the right to fight for our jobs, not be shackled by bad laws and not to be governed to the point where you can no longer stand up for yourself.

It is up to us as workers, as community members, as concerned citizens of this country to seek change that protects Australian workers’ rights to work in our own country.

As the crew of the Alexander Spirit, we call on our union, the Maritime Union of Australia, to take on a campaign that fights for jobs and job security.

We further call on our union to take this campaign to the streets and engage with communities to make this an election issue. Any political party that does not put jobs and job security first and foremost is not a political party in our view that is deserving of governing this country.

We urge all members to engage with their branches nationwide to demonstrate to all oil majors that their decision to sell out Australian jobs and the right of Australians to work in this country is not acceptable.

Most importantly, we call on the community to not let the issue of jobs and job security sail out of Devonport with us on the Alexander Spirit.

It is time to get active.”

signed, the crew of the Alexander Spirit

Show us the money — the millions in unpaid, overdue money

Nord Explorer cfrew with money

What do you do with the bottom feeders in the maritime industry, the  shipowners who repeatedly, knowingly fail to pay crew for work they have completed — to the tune of millions of dollars owing every year?

Collecting back wages for seafarers on flag-of-convenience ships is one of the important jobs of our ITF inspectors. Totals for 2014 show the International Transport Workers Federation collected $59.46 million in unpaid wages.

(You can find an industry press story that reports on last year’s wage collections and raises some interesting questions here: Seatrade Maritime News)

That’s almost $60 million last year, cheated from seafarers who worked more than eight hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year — some of those days for as many as 12 hours. And that’s just the money we found out about.

In Canada, our three inspectors collected $864,713 of those unpaid wages last year in ports across the country. This year so far, we have collected $678,528.

It’s worth noting that these are the ships that operate in unsafe ways and that pose a risk to our marine environment — the ships that Stephen Harper and his Conservatives want to invite to take over what’s left of our Canadian-registered coastal trade.

Back pay collected and returned to seafarers is just one aspect of the ITF inspector’s job. We also ensure that seafarers’ health and safety needs are met, including sufficent food of good quality, and that they get medical attention as necessary. And we make sure that they are repatriated at the end of their contracts; to save money, shipowners tend to keep people aboard months after the expiration of the employment period, which could mean well over a year aboard.

 

 

Guest post: Terry Engler on the critical need to enforce maritime regulations

Terry Engler

Terry Engler, president of Local 400 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, speaks at the ITF’s Fair Practices Committee in Australia, June 2015.

This week, Terry Engler, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 400 Marine Section, writes on his concern about the lack of regulatory muscle to ensure safe operations on Canadian coasts and waterways. It’s an important concern: while the government of Canada has spent millions of dollars on public relations and commissioned studies that prop up the status quo, Canadians themselves remain unconvinced when we talk about marine safety and the protection of Canada’s coasts.

We have watched the Canadian Coast Guard cut back on its search-and-rescue bases in Newfoundland and close its critical Kitsilano station in Vancouver. We saw an inadequate response from coast guard on the Marathassa oil spill into Vancouver’s English Bay. We watched the closing of Marine Traffic and Communications Services offices in B.C., including the one located in the busy centre of Vancouver’s harbour.

We have seen what lax regulations and enforcement mean in other industries as well. The memories have yet to fade from the horror of Quebec’s Lac-Megantic train-derailment disaster two years ago that claimed at least 42 people in a crude-oil inferno — or from the listeriosis disaster in Ontario five years earlier, when 22 people died after eating contaminated cold cuts processed at a meat plant where federal inspectors had spent less than two hours a day in the months prior.

We think it is important to listen carefully to the voices of people like Terry Engler, who has so much experience on the operations, labour and regulatory side of Canada’s marine industry. It’s important to pay attention — and to understand that Canada’s maritime workers have more in common with other Canadian citizens than with the corporate interests that seem to rule our government.

Terry writes:

I worked as a cook and cook/deckhand in the marine industry from 1976 through 2000. Since then, I have served as president of ILWU Local 400 Marine Section, representing unlicensed seafarers on board towboats. I have participated both regionally and nationally since 2000 in the Canadian Marine Advisory Council (CMAC, a national advisory stakeholder council for policy and regulatory issues). I was an active participant in the development of the Canada Shipping Act 2000. I have also led negotiations for all of the Local 400 collective agreements since 2000. I believe that this experience gives me an important perspective on the marine industry in B.C. in the past and going forward.

In 2000, when I first attended CMAC and began to engage in  consultations on the regulations that govern the marine industry, labour’s position was to increase prescriptive regulations and enhance their enforcement. But union voices were unfortunately not unified at that time, and the federal government was able to simply ignore the differing union positions. Industry demanded less regulation (so-called “red tape”) and, given that the government of the day was becoming more conservative, it agreed to move to “best practices” as industry demanded.

“Best practices” is simply a new term for “self-regulation” – which, history has shown, does not work in the long run. Companies will follow best practices when their business is doing well but if they have problems, they will cut corners and do whatever is necessary to try to make the profit that their owners demand. Governments enacted regulations in the first place because because business made it clear that it would pollute the world and harm workers and citizens if polluting would lead to higher profits.

Governments had no choice but to bring in regulations to protect their citizens, communities and their sovereign territory. There are no shortages of examples of this historic reality — from Minimata disease caused by mercury from pulp mills in northern Ontario to the Love Canal’s chemical disaster in upstate New York, to the tar-ponds coal contamination in Nova Scotia, the Exxon Valdez crude-oil spill in Alaska and the acid residue from the Britannia Beach mine in B.C. All of these disasters were caused in part because there were no regulations
— or because there was no enforcement of existing regulations.

Employers have convinced our right-wing governments that regulations are “red tape” and that the “free market” will protect us all. But if you pay attention to history, it is obvious that without regulation, the “free market” will result in disasters that will harm workers, the public and the environment.

Transport Canada, the regulatory body covering maritime issues, has in the past 15 years agreed to industry’s demands to allow self- regulation. It has also cut the number of inspectors on the ground, and even gone so far as ensure Transport Canada owns none of its own vessels – which has led to a bizarre situation in which Transport Canada must hire a vessel from the RCMP or other party to do marine inspections unless the vessel is secured at a dock.

I know that most Transport Canada inspectors and bureaucrats are hardworking and want to make a positive difference, but the federal government has been cutting funds to all departments that enforce regulations. The ruling parties are proponents of the unfettered “free market” and will blindly follow that mantra, no matter the consequences.

We have a particularly challenging problem in B.C. because the environmental movement has declared the province ground zero in its campaign against the carbon economy – even as the federal and provincial governments have decided that oil and natural gas (the carbon economy) are the basis and future of our economy.  I consider myself to be an environmentalist; I want my children and their children to have a clean environment. But they will also need to have good, living-wage paying jobs to support a good life — and we have lost too many of our good-paying industrial jobs to globalization.

I know that we can increase marine traffic in B.C. safely, but doing so will require a strong regulatory regime and a robust inspectorate. How do we get there when our governments promote “best practices” and self-regulation and cut their inspection budgets?

Clearly, we need to work to elect a government that reflects our views and understands that we need regulations and enforcement to protect us from the vagaries of the free-market system.

Your Saturday listen: Fighting for better seas

Our new blog’s been warmly received and has sparked a lot of interest in the ITF and its work, so we thought this week’s Saturday Morning Listen should be a short look at Flag of Convenience shipping, and the exploitation and abuses that are still prevalent — and how the ITF works around the world for a safer, better life for seafarers.

You can watch here:

Firing pregnant cabin crew: Qatar gets a red card

The ITF has made progress in winning rights for female seafarers who become pregnant while sailing aboard FOC vessels where flag-country legislation might offer them no protection at all.

The ITF has made progress in winning rights for female seafarers who become pregnant while working aboard FOC vessels, where flag-country legislation might otherwise offer them no protection at all. It’s on ongoing struggle for many female transport workers.

The ITF has won a critical international ruling that Qatar’s repressive regime is guilty of allowing its state-owned airline to institutionalize discrimination by firing pregnant cabin crew — a victory that mirrors a similar long, hard struggle to protect pregnant seafarers aboard flag-of-convenience ships.

The International Labour Organization ruled in June that Qatar Airways violated both national and international agreements when it fired female cabin crew who become pregnant. And it found the Qatari government breached international obligations by turning a blind eye to these offences — not surprising, given Qatar’s horrible record of worker abuse, some of which made headlines when it was revealed one worker had died every two days in 2014 as FIFA World Cup sites were readied.

People around the world are rightfully appalled. In just one act of admirable solidarity, a petition is demanding that Barcelona FC — the renowned and progressive Spanish soccer team whose shirts bear Qatar Airways’s logo — drop the airline as a sponsor until it treats workers fairly. The petition collected a full 40,000 signatures in its first 24 hours and it’s still growing. You can find the petition here and the ITF’s position on it here.

Equally unsurprising is the discriminatory treatment female seafarers have suffered at the hands of questionable flag-of-convenience shipowners. Defending the rights of women at sea has been a difficult road for the ITF, but there have been some victories.

For female seafarers who become pregnant and opt to take maternity leave, their rights differ depending on where they work.

If they sail under the flag of their own country, they’re covered by that country’s legislation and any rights guaranteed under their union’s collective bargaining agreements. If they work on a Flag of Convenience vessel, they’re  covered by the legislation of that flag state – which might not include any maternity rights at all.

However, ITF-approved agreements do guarantee minimum rights on FOC ships where they are in force. ITF-approved agreements for merchant vessels stipulate that pregnant seafarers must be repatriated at the cost of the company, and must receive two months’ full pay in compensation. Timing of repatriation may vary depending on where the seafarer is working and her stage of pregnancy. Where the ship is trading coastally, or where a doctor is on board, it is generally safer for pregnant women to work later into a pregnancy — in Britain, up to 28 weeks. On deep sea vessels or very high-speed craft, the risks need to be assessed carefully.

In general, pregnancy should never be treated as a disciplinary offence. Pregnancy testing before seafarers are employed may violate International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 183.

Just as the ITF fought to bring these protections to seafarers, it will fight on for workers in Qatar and elsewhere.

 

The Year of Living Dangerously: a seafarer’s gallery

Nord Explorer New Years

Our tale — and our photo gallery — open with New Year’s celebrations aboard the Nord Explorer as the FOC ship sails for Vancouver in 2015. As they approach, the ITF has already been alerted to non-payment of wages and is working on the case — a bright note for the crew as they look ahead to 2015.

Seafarers are made of steel. They learn fast that the single most effective weapon against adversity is solidarity. They learn there is safety and joy in building community and joining hands for the months they spend away from home and across the miles that separate them from family. This week, we posted a story of the togetherness and perseverance that saw the many crews of a single slippery shipowner — Keymax Maritime —  survive a tough year at sea, aided by a worldwide fleet of ITF inspectors. Today, we present a gallery of their photos of the truly harrowing year. Our thanks for the photos to, among others, Christopher Jayin, Dyordz Dela Pena, Juan Luis Villalon Jones  and Bobbi Shipley.

Nord Explore, Lions Gate bridge Vancouver

Nord Explorer arrives in Vancouver. ITF’s Peter Lahay has already secured $50,000 advance payment at Stockton prior to ship’s arrival, with $106,00 US still to come for on-board wage payments and for families desperately awaiting money at home.

Nord Explorer.@ vancouver

All secure at Cargill grain terminal in North Vancouver. Relieved crew takes much-needed shore leave with money in their pockets before departing to Peru and Chile.

Nord Explorer Panama

Crew generally enjoy transitting the Panama Canal — but wages are starting to fall behind again, with nearly two months owing. Four repatriating crew are heading home to Philippines from Panama; Peter has made sure that full payout was made before they left the ship. Vessel is now heading north to Philadelphia.

Nord Explorer, tie up in Norfolk:Philly

Nearly secured in Philly and almost ready to discharge. ITF Inspector Bobbi Shipley is en route to meet the crew.

Nord Explorer parted grab in no

While discharging salt, a massive grab (bucket) drops when one of its wires breaks — a sure sign of a vessel run by a company under strict financial controls, and a possible sign that maintenance of critical equipment is not being done. And typical of your slipshod, run-of-the-mill FOC operator.

Continue reading

The cabotage struggle heats up in Australia

Australian support line, Alexander Spirit,July 2015

For those following the struggle of Australian maritime workers to maintain control of jobs in their own coastal waters, we’re offering a collection of news items to bring you up to date. Supporters continue to stand by workers in the latest flashpoint in the battle —  the removal of Aussie crew from the tanker Alexander Spirit in order to replace them with cheap foreign workers. Seafarers who stand to lose their jobs are in a tough spot. Aside from the solidarity we all feel for workers on both sides of this nasty corporate and political manoeuvre, we also have an important stake in this anti-cabotage trend that our own prime minister is bringing to Canadian shores.

For now, catch up on Australia.

When slippery shipowners cheat crew, whose fight is it?

hands 

We’ve had it with Flag of Convenience shipping. We’re tired of substandard operators, cut-throat crew managers and heartless ship financiers. Why? The infuriating, distasteful, year-long saga we outline today pretty much says it all: six ships, hundreds of crew living in filth and low on food, cheated of hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages. The only bright spot in the story? The bond of trust and solidarity between those seafarers and the family of ITF inspectors around the world, fighting hard to support them.

We believe that it’s well past time for the shipping industry to get its sorry act together and show appropriate responsibility to crew, coastal communities and the marine environment. Our story shows that no such thing is happening.

The tale starts in Vancouver and will ferry us to South America, through the Panama Canal and all the way north to Philadelphia. It travels a long distance, as far as Australia, but it never ends. It’s the story of the ITF’s global inspectorate team joining hands to support the many crews of a single, derelict ship manager: Keymax Maritime.

Pour a coffee and settle in for the read…

We begin by noting that the economics of shipping are extremely complex. Buying and selling ships is riskier than the Shanghai stock exchange these days; ship financing and mortgage and chartering structures are always a bit of a gamble. The shipping markets rise and fall just like stocks — and the swings can be wild.

Japan’s Keymax Maritime, the villain in our tale, is a company that probably gambled wrong. Traditionally, it was a ship-management company that also supplied and maintained crew for other owners. Then it started to buy ships for itself. While it is hard to determine its actual size, the company has at least 125 ships and employs 2,500 seafarers. Has that growth worked? We don’t have all the details, but we can clearly see that it’s all gone wrong for the Keymax empire. More importantly to us, it’s all gone wrong for the seafarers who crew their fleet.

Our story opens about three years ago, when ITF Canada Coordinator Peter Lahay was tipped off about a problem during a routine labour inspection aboard a Keymax ship in the Port of Vancouver. As Peter was leaving the vessel, a group of ship’s officers gathered at the gangway to intercept him. Continue reading

Your Saturday listen: The ITF’s Paddy Crumlin on our common struggle

PaddyPodcast

Trade unionists young and old — and for that matter, bosses and journalists — will not want to miss this week’s inspirational, compassionate and pragmatic remarks by Paddy Crumlin on the common struggles facing workers worldwide.

You can listen to it here.

At this summer’s International Longshore and Warehouse Union convention in Hawaii, the ILWU 502 Docker Podcast team recorded a number of conversations.  Our blog has already featured two of them, including one with ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton, who spoke at length about the struggles of the world’s transport workers and about two ITF campaign issues — one of them a campaign to bring global logistics giant DHL to the world’s negotiating tables, and the other a new  campaigning model called the “Four Levers Strategy”.

This week, we’re thrilled to bring listeners an hour-long discussion with Paddy Crumlin, General Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia and president of the ITF. When Paddy was elected, his stated aim was to get the ITF on the front foot prosecuting our own agenda for workers, and not simply functioning as a reactive and bureaucratic meeting machine. Like Steve, Paddy’s aim is to make a difference in the lives of workers, to strengthen ITF affiliates and to make a measurable contribution.

It is because of the likes of Paddy Crumlin, Steve Cotton and others that many of us are raising our game. The struggles are numerous and indeed they are even mounting, but we are building our capacity and renewing our energy to take on the bastards and work with the good ones.

Pour yourself a coffee — or better still, a nice Aussie shiraz from the Margaret River — and have a listen here.

The Age of Aquarius? What a tragedy for Canada

gangway montreal

How would you feel about hopping the gap between  the dock and this unsecured, unguarded gangway — if  that safety net wasn’t there?

From time to time, we feature ITF inspectors from Canada talking about their cases in their own words. The stories illustrate key issues for us: risk to human life, to the welfare of crew and their families, and sometimes risk to Canada’s marine environment and security.

Today we feature Vince Giannopoulos, who works the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region, on his inspection of the tanker MV Chemical Aquarius in Montreal this week:

“Safety and security. These words are often used together, but it is important to remember that they are two very different words, with very different meanings.

Safety is defined as the condition of being protected from danger, risk or injury. In any industrial work environment, safety is of the utmost importance, and standards are set very high. Security, on the other hand, means being free from danger or threat. The nature of the maritime industry dictates that ships must also comply with very high security standards at all times.

Last week, as I approached a ship in the Port of Montreal, I witnessed the absence of any standards whatsoever – not safety, not security. I looked over at the gangway, which sat about  two feet above the dock with no save-all (the net that’s supposed to hang underneath to catch anyone who might fall). As I stood there debating whether or not to risk going up, I called over to try and get the attention of someone on deck who could lower the ramp and make it secure before I boarded. But there was no one to hear me. I cautiously climbed on board and looked around, but there was still not a body in sight to fix the gangway, let alone sign in any visitors.

Spend a day in a Canadian port and very quickly you will see a theme emerge. Security seems to be the number one priority. Always when visiting ships, there is more than one security checkpoint you must pass before ultimately boarding the vessel. That’s why I was so surprised that I was able to saunter over to the tanker vessel loaded with more than 5,000 tonnes of gasoline, hop on the gangway and make my way all the way upstairs to the captain’s office without being stopped once — or even looked at by anyone. When I got to the captain’s office, he was no doubt surprised to see me there, and asked for a few minutes before we began reviewing the ship’s and crew-employment documents.

So I walked down a couple of decks, had a cup of coffee in the crew mess and began to read the local paper, surely left behind by either a dockworker or perhaps the agent. As I skimmed the paper, I noticed articles on some of the biggest issues facing Canadians today — things like Bill C-51 (Canada’s terror legislation) and trade deals like CETA — and the controversy that surrounds them. I didn’t get a chance to finish reading before being told the captain would see me, so I made my way back up. The first thing the captain told me was that he was transporting cargo between two Canadian ports. I was surprised. Like most seafaring nations, Canadian cabotage (the movement of cargo between two domestic ports) is protected by legislation found in the Coasting Trade Act.  To be operating in these areas with a foreign flag, the vessel requires a licence exempting it from the requirement to be Canadian-owned, flagged and crewed.  All crew also need “waivers” approved by the Canadian government allowing them to work.

It was then that the irony of the situation really sank in. Continue reading

Greek workers have already paid the price

The ITF has weighed in on the weekend vote by the Greek people, who have rejected efforts by financial and corporate interests to balance their books by impoverishing workers and communities and transferring further public wealth into private hands.

The words of General Secretary Steve Cotton take on special meaning for Canadians heading for the polls this fall to choose the people and the policies that will move our country forward.

“Workers and pensioners are deeply concerned about their jobs, their pensions and their future, especially as they have already had to pay the price of an irresponsible economic monetary system,” Cotton says. “(We need) to find a solution based on an investment plan for growth that avoids once again shifting all of the burden of this crisis onto workers and pensioners.”

You can read the ITF news release here.

Update from Oz: Hell no, they won’t go

low res  Photo courtesy of Our Coast, Our Fuel campaign

We posted a short item Friday on the sacking of 36 Australian seafarers on the Teekay-owned tanker the Alexander Spirit. Here is an update: The crew are now refusing to sail it to Singapore, where the company intends to sack them and replace them with cheap FoC crew.

They are also refusing to leave the ship. So we have a … Tasmanian standoff.

Why are they digging in? We’ll leave it to Ian Bray, Assistant National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, to explain.

Caltex, the oil shipping company behind the crew firing, is misleading the Australian public by insisting that there was not enough trade to sustain the Australian-crewed Alexander Spirit, Bray says.

“I would love for Caltex to explain why the Liberian-flagged Stolt Kikyo is alongside in Geelong and what trip Caltex has planned for that vessel they have brought in to replace the Alexander Spirit,” he said.

“Why haven’t the soon-to-be redundant crew from the Alexander Spirit crew been offered replacement jobs on the vessel? Why is the government allowing Caltex to run roughshod over the intent of cabotage laws by allowing this replacement vessel to do what was, up until today, the Alexander Spirit run?

“So many unanswered questions — and I think the crew has a right to know why they have been cast aside in the worst way possible.”

You can read the latest on the standoff  here and here.