Monthly Archives: January 2016

Your Saturday Listen: We cover the waterfront. Including beer.


ITF Canadian coordinator Peter Lahay (second from left) joins the Docker Podcast team — Mike Scopazzo, Dan Kask and Mike Mayer — to model their new solidarity t-shirts.

Three committed young labour activists sit down to talk with ITF Canadian Coordinator Peter Lahay. You’ll never guess what happens next. Hint: It includes Polish Solidarnosc workers, Arab trade-union struggles — and making wise beer choices.

You can enjoy the latest Docker Podcast podcast here.



ITF rolls on a contract, crew rolls off with better wages and working conditions


ITF Atlantic inspector Karl Risser (centre) reunites with crew of MV Goodwood in Port of Halifax, January 2016.

ITF Atlantic inspector Karl Risser (centre) reunites with crew of MV Goodwood in Port of Halifax, January 2016.

We’ve got a quick dispatch from Halifax, and it’s the kind of news that makes us feel good about our work – and about the real-life value of solidarity.

This week, the ro-ro vessel MV Goodwood swung through Halifax on her semi-regular liner service. Karl Risser, our new Atlantic region inspector, wanted to pass along an observation on how good it felt to see the return of a crew who just months earlier sailed into port without the protection of a labour agreement – and now were back with higher wages, better leave pay and better insurance for injury or loss of life.

For ro-ro crew, who sail under risky conditions and face injuries daily, that last part means a lot. The ships have a unique design that poses challenges: slight cargo shifts can rattle their stability, low freeboard can leave doors submerged when they list, and the lack of bulkheads lessens watertight integrity and means fires can spread faster.

The Goodwood is owned in Japan and controlled by Zodiac Maritime Ltd., a company known all too well to ITF inspectors. Late last November, during an ITF labour inspection in the Port of Halifax, we determined that the ship was not covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement (CBA). That’s when Risser and our retiring Atlantic region inspector Gerard Bradbury swung into action.

They began pressing the owners and charterers for a new CBA. Working along the ship’s trading route with our German inspectors and with the ITF Agreements Unit in London, we signed the vessel on Dec. 21, just in time for Christmas.

The new CBA means significantly improved working conditions and salary, especially for the lower-ranking crew. And it showed on their faces when they sailed back into port this week. They were happy.

So Karl wanted to offer big thanks from them to Gerard Bradbury and to Susan Linderkamp of Ver.Di, the German general workers union, for their hand in the increased benefits and wages. When Karl asked about their home union, he says many identified themselves as proud members of the Marine Transport Workers Trade Union of Ukraine.

Karl, who’s always proud to point out he started out with the Marine Workers Federation, reminded us of that small moment of connection we feel when we stand together as workers and identify ourselves as part of a solidarity movement in our own lands. Saying it out loud, worker to worker, means something. So it was good to hear them speak proudly of their Ukrainian ties.

It was equally good to have helped secure them an agreement. Working aboard ro-ros is a risky way to put food on the table, as news from the shipping world this week reminded us all.

Anyone who follows maritime events will be familiar with the recent foundering of the MV Modern Express, a Panama-flagged FoC ship.

As of today, salvage plans were under way to recover the stricken vessel as it continued to drift without crew in the Bay of Biscay off the west coast of France. The crew of 22 were rescued Tuesday after cargo of timber and construction machinery shifted and left the ship listing by 40 degrees in high seas and gale-force winds.

Because the Modern Express is covered by an ITF CBA, the evacuated crew will continue on wages, and have insurance to cover lost personal belongings and any injuries suffered.

So it’s been a week full of great reminders — on the value of bargaining together for decent working conditions, and on our brothers and sisters at sea who make it all worthwhile.

The MV Goodwood, an F0C ro-ro vessel, conducts cargo operations during a regular call in the Port of Halifax.

The MV Goodwood, an F0C ro-ro vessel, conducts cargo operations during a regular call in the Port of Halifax.

Your Saturday Listen: Here’s a resolution for 2016. Pay your damned crew fairly. And stop threatening them.

It’s the first Saturday of the new year. It’s tempting to write something cliche like “we’re rededicating ourselves” to the battle for justice for seafarers — but the truth is, we’re dedicated to doing this every day,  and the job never really ends.

Much of our day on New Year’s Eve in Vancouver, for example, was spent aboard the MV Bereket, a Panama-flagged, Turkish-owned bulk carrier that was loading agricultural products at the Fraser-Surrey docks for delivery to Cuba. Onboard, we found that the Turkish crew were working under a detailed employment agreement that applied to all of them. Each of the 20-odd clauses were written by the shipowner — and were written entirely in favour of the shipowner. We are now attempting to sign a collective-bargaining agreement for that ship that would bring equity to the two sides. While we work at that, the vessel has been detained by Transport Canada for various safety deficiencies.

In some ways, it’s a classic example as we kick off a new year of our blog. Seafarers are among the world’s most marginalized and isolated workers; they are regularly cheated of wages, denied proper food and working and living conditions and medical treatment — or release from work when their contracted time-period has expired. Grinding workers through an unjust, one-sided contract sums up the contempt that the bottom-feeders in the shipping world hold for their employees.

The Bereket was just one example from Vancouver in the past week.

The MV Harm (no, you can’t make this stuff up) is a German-owned, Liberian-flagged bulk carrier that took on a load of India-bound coal in Vancouver. Crew complaints included salaries below industry standard, not enough to eat, no night lunches for the watchkeeping crews and being forced to pay for work gloves, bottled water, laundry soap and hand soap. They also said they were not being paid the industry-standard pay for cleaning the six cargo holds, which on that ship are each big enough to play a competitive soccer match in. As a final insult, the Romanian captain had ordered crew not to let any of our ITF inspectors aboard, despite the fact the Maritime Labour Convention guarantees them the right to representation. Our request to rectify the issues has been met with total silence from Transeste Schiffahrt, the German owner.

For this week’s Saturday Listen, we’re posting a video of a fairly recent TVOntario show that took a look at “sea blindness” —  a reference to the fact that shipping, which delivers almost all of the goods that modern societies depend on, remains relatively invisible to the public.

Have a listen. It’s a wide-ranging discussion and it features some interesting people, including Rose George, author of Ninety Percent of Everything, and Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping. You’ll hear a lot of good things said about the industry: its importance, its improved environmental practices, its efforts to address piracy  and so on. You’ll also hear panelist Peter Lahay, the ITF’s Canadian coordinator, burst some of those bubbles.

As Peter makes clear, the shipping industry will continue to face harsh criticism and deep public suspicion as long as shipowners continue to behave badly — for example, by writing labour agreements for crew that favour their own economic interests. Even more importantly — as we will talk more about this year — as long as shipowners continue to threaten crew with blacklisting if they complain about harsh conditions, the industry will deserve the black eye that it tends to get from the public.

Enjoy the video. And  welcome back to a new year with The ITF in Canada.