Happy holidays to all of you, from all of us at the ITF in Canada

Karl Risser, two seafarers

Atlantic Canada ITF inspector Karl Risser, left, catches up with crew during a labour inspection on our east coast.

It’s time to make fast the good ship ITF in Canada till the new year. But first we wanted to say a heartfelt thanks for the great time we’ve had getting our blog launched, and to everyone who has read and clicked and emailed and subscribed and generally made it a whole lot of fun to put into words some of the exhilarating, inspiring, discouraging and daunting problems we face as we climb gangways daily.

We wanted to start a conversation and to create a bit of a record of the kinds of cases we tackle as we do the work of representing seafarers aboard flag-of-convenience ships. In the six months that we’ve been pecking away at this blog, we hope we’ve done both. Although a lot of time this year was spent away with teaching and training sessions, we look forward to getting back in harness in the new year. Expect to see profiles of our Canadian inspectors, updates on some of the issues we tackled and a whole new round of Saturday Listens.

As we write these words, it’s already Christmas Eve for some of our readers. In Canada, most of our Christmas goods are brought to us from overseas by the seafarers and dockworkers who move the consumer items that we pack the malls to purchase in towns and cities across our country. And they fill the warehouses full of the stuff that we order online.

So while we are tucked into our warm homes, peeling back the bright crinkly paper that wraps our gifts and the bright crinkly peel that wraps our holiday oranges, we will think about those seafarers — who are themselves thousands of miles from their homes and families during the holidays. Right now, as you read, many of them are battling the dark, stormy seas of the North Atlantic and the Great Circle route of the North Pacific.

We think it’s important to take a moment to honour the men and women of the world’s merchant fleet, who too often are forgotten and too seldom are acknowledged for their role in moving the goods we rely on.  We also thank those who help support seafarers, including the volunteers at the Missions to Seafarers in Halifax, Vancouver, Montreal,  Saint John and elsewhere.

We’ll close with a message from Karl Risser, Canada’s newest inspector. Karl, who represents the Atlantic region, passed along a short comment and some photos of his first Christmas on the job. We couldn’t say it any better ourselves, so we’re letting him speak for all of us.

Karl writes:

“With the holiday season here, I look forward to spending quality time with family and friends. We celebrate with gifts, good meals and great times together; it can sometimes seem like the best time of what is otherwise a busy year. I’m sure the same is true for most of the Canadians about to relax into a week of food and fun and downtime with loved ones.

Unfortunately, it can be hardest time of the year for seafarers, who spend anywhere from nine to a full 12 months of the year at sea. The holidays can be hard to deal with when all you can think about is the time you’re missing with loved ones. Seafarers should take enormous pride in the work they do and the incredible challenges they shoulder to support family back at home. But feeling lonely during a season of togetherness can overwhelm all that.

Seafaring is hard work. It means labouring in relative isolation for long periods, often in dangerous conditions, and all too often for employers who cheat and abuse crew. These folks deserve our help and support — especially at this time of year.

I am proud to say that in Halifax, we are working through the ITF, the local Mission to Seafarers and with our port partners to deliver holiday joy.

I seen first-hand the difference ‎we are making, and I have some great examples to share.

Our mission in Halifax prepares shoe boxes full of gifts, which has turned out to be  a great way to make seafarers feel welcomed in our port. You can see the difference it makes in the smiling faces full of joy. It says that we know they’re away from home at Christmas, that they are appreciated and remembered, and that they aren’t alone. The little boxes are small symbols that were all family, and that we care. It’s a message that’s easy, that’s important and that matters.

The mission in Saint John does a holiday gift drive as well; this year, they included letters from local school children thanking seafarers for the work they do every day. The kids recognize that most of the things we use every day are brought to us by ships — and that without the workers who run them, not a single trip would be possible. That kind of acknowledgement, especially from children the same ages as many of their own kids, goes a long way during the dark days of winter.

Finally, I take comfort in the fact that the work we do as ITF inspectors ‎to protect seafarers’ rights at work –through assisting with collective bargaining, inspections, claims and political lobbying — is making a difference in their lives. We are a worldwide force for change in shipping, and it’s change for the better.

It’s my first Christmas on the job, and I can say it feels good to have joined the family of inspectors around the globe. I wish all of my colleagues, here in Canada and in ports worldwide, a peaceful holiday. And peace as well to seafarers aboard ships everywhere. It’s a great honour to be able to represent you. Safe travels to all of you.”

Nicely said, Karl. Peaceful holiday wishes to all of you — those at home, and especially those at sea — from Canada’s ITF inspectors Gerard Bradbury, Karl Risser, Vince Giannopoulos and Peter Lahay.

Karl Risser. Gerard Bradbury

Karl (left) and Gerard receive letters of appreciation written to seafarers by schoolchildren in Saint John, NB.

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