Monthly Archives: August 2015

Your Saturday Listen: Canada’s risky coastguard cuts must be a ballot-box issue

The Saturday Morning Listen crew is feeling pretty militant. We’re angry that last month’s blistering report on coastguard cutbacks — and how they crippled an oilspill response — is already fading from the public’s memory. It seems impossible that the Harper government’s ideological cost-cutting has put our waters, our trade and our communities at risk — and yet the cutbacks are not a flashpoint in this election. And it seems unreasonable to expect us not to continue to bang this drum long and loud until the last ballot is cast.

We’re feeling especially angry this week because the first federal election debate just unfolded — and while there was an attempt to position up on pipelines and tankers and oil, there was zero mention of mending the maritime safety net that the Harper Conservatives have ripped to shreds. Or of the risky flag-of-convenience ships they are inviting into our coastal trade.

(For our readers outside of Canada, we’re electing a new national government on Oct. 19, and the campaign season has just officially kicked off, so it’s time for us to be debating policy that affects our maritime workers, our maritime trade, our three coasts and their communities … and Thursday night, as the first debate was held by party leaders, the silence on all those fronts was deafening.)

On April 8, a brand new, flag-of-convenience bulk carrier named the Marathassa leaked about 3,000 litres of bunker fuel into English Bay in the heart of Vancouver. There was a two-hour delay in the response by coastguard crew, who were crippled by cutbacks in staff, by lack of spending on the exercises and drills that keep crew trained and ready, by closure of the Kitsilano base — which sits within spitting distance of the leaking ship, shuttered and stripped of its vessels, its crews and its spill-response gear — and by decisions to remove critical staff to distant posts, too far from the scene to assess what needed done or to hit the deck and do  it.

We’ve already highlighted the damning conclusions of a report assessing what went wrong with the response and cleanup.

Coastguard bases closed. Equipment cut back. Crew stretched too thin. Marine traffic services moved and hacked apart. Transport Canada’s marine inspection undermanned. It’s a recipe for disaster, and as we have seen on the West Coast, we are already paying the price.

So we thought that while you settle back over coffee and weekend barbecues to debate the political scene, you might want to remember just how it looked and sounded when Vancouver suffered an oil spill this spring — not the first place in Canada that Conservative cuts have been felt, and, we predict, not the last.

We implore voters across the country to raise their voices on this issue — to make it clear to every candidate that the price of your vote is a promise to rebuild a maritime safety system that works.

Tell them you’re voting for our coasts. And for our marine workers.

Need some inspiration? Listen in as the Marathassa spill, cleanup and finger-pointing unfold: Continue reading

Your Saturday Listen: In human dignity we trust

This week, we look at the softer side of the ITF’s work: the Seafarers Trust, our charity dedicated to the welfare of seafarers, irrespective of nationality, race or creed.

Since its launch in 1981, the trust has provided some $200 million US to support seafarers around the world.

The Trust was established by the ITF as a body with charitable status under UK law.  Its funding comes from the investment income of the ITF’s welfare fund, which is used to provide trade-union services to seafarers. The trust is tasked with supporting projects that directly benefit individual seafarers’ spiritual, moral or physical welfare.

Those projects have evolved as needs change. Initially, in the words of former ITF general secretary David Cockroft, the Trust was seen as something of a “minibus or van fund” for groups seeking grants to provide transport for seafarers while in port. But it has evolved into a sophisticated and effective organisation that coordinates global work aimed at meeting the complex welfare needs of seafarers.

The latest example of modern times: the Trust has launched its first phone app. Shore Leave is a free, offline app that allows seafarers to store in their smartphones the contact details of all seafarers’ centres around the world. With a few clicks, seafarers can call the nearest mission for assistance or the SeafarerHelp line for more serious issues. Or they can use the app to find information about the Seafarers’ Trust and the International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare, the organisation providing the database of seafarers’ centres.

We asked Kimberly Karlshoej, head of the trust, for her own take on the charity.

In her words: “We believe that all working men and women should have work that offers them security, freedom, dignity, equity and purpose. These deeply held beliefs, of the rights of workers and the human rights of all people, permeate the Trust and are the values that we base our work on.”

Vision: “Our vision is to be the leader in promoting and improving the wellbeing of maritime workers worldwide. We envisage a world where all maritime workers are healthy, happy and have decent work.”

Mission: “We financially support organizations that provide services to maritime workers; we invest in long-term programs that improve the health and well-being of seafarers and their families; and we act as a catalyst for positive normative change in the maritime community.”

Values:  “We are a family of trade unionists who are at the forefront of the struggle for transport workers’ rights, and therefore also human rights. Many trade unionists have lost their lives or risked their own freedom in their attempts to claim the basic human rights of freedom of association, to organize and engage in collective bargaining, and to freedom of speech.”

Here’s a shorter six-minute version of the video:

And here’s the full 30-minute version: