Monthly Archives: January 2017

Free trade with China: here’s the cost

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Captain Jian Sheng Wang (left) oversees payout of crew in Vancouver. ILWU Marine Section staffer Cindy Li (right) helped ensure the men received the cash owing them.

It’s rare that every shameful aspect of the Trudeau government’s trade agenda comes together in a single horrifying story. This month, in the Port of Vancouver, they did.

Twenty-one Chinese seafarers sailed alongside last week to load Canadian grain. Some were being paid less than half what their contract required, and even the those wages were overdue. Families at home hadn’t received their allotments. The ITF investigated. We got the company to agree to pay up the $146,466 owing and stood watch as the money they’d been cheated of was handed to each of the crew, in cash. But the mooring lines had barely been cast off when their employer snatched the money back out of their hands. And that may have been the least of the punishments that rained down on whichever unlucky crew members the company decided to use as an example to anyone thinking of asserting their labour rights in future.

Canada is hell-bent on a trade deal with China. We’ve already signed one with Europe — and we know how that’s going. Nineteen crew aboard the European-owned Ben Wyvis sailed into Vancouver this month cheated of $261,346 — more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Ordinary Canadians have struggled to understand that racism and economic exploitation is part of the country’s history. They’re working hard to live democratically and promote economic justice. And their government is capitalizing on those noble instincts in order to market its corrupt and shameful trade deals as a chance to “bravely expand a globalized trading system” for what it says will be the benefit of all.

This week, we met 21 Chinese seafarers who would beg to differ.

(A head’s up: This post is a bit longer than some, but we think the details of the crew’s situation are worth recording. There’s something in the sharing of another worker’s story that sometimes helps us feel the weight of trade debates that are orchestrated to sound lofty, upbeat and oddly unrelated to the fellow human beings who will pay the price of enacting them. Pour a drink and read on.)

Our story begins in mid-December of last year, with a Chinese crew member aboard the Liberian-flagged Yangze 7 who had been in contact with Japanese ITF inspector Fusao Ohori. The seafarer used an anonymous name — Andy — and an anonymous email account to talk. Anonymity is essential for Chinese crew serving on internationally trading vessels; breaking rank can mean anything from a fine to blacklisting and the death of a career at sea.

Andy’s email detailed a number of issues: not enough food, late payment of salaries, families who had not received home allotments since October — and crew possibly cheated on their basic salaries.

For Chinese crew, much of this is typical.

For many years, ITF inspectors worldwide have known about the practice of double bookkeeping on Chinese-crewed ships. Sometimes, although it’s rare, we actually pry the documents of proof loose. Double-booking takes place when the company and the captain keep one set of books for ITF inspectors (and sometimes maritime authorities) who might ask to see payroll records. They keep a second set of books or payroll records that show actual salaries paid. To the uninitiated, the first set shows a world so perfect we can only marvel at the fantastic salaries paid to the Chinese crew. Even the most experienced ITF inspectors dealing with crew salaries daily find it difficult to obtain the second books. That’s because Chinese crew are notoriously tight-lipped about their real conditions. Before they leave China to join a ship, they are warned by their manning agency to keep quiet and not talk to ITF. Sometimes both the seafarer and their family are required to sign guarantees that they will not complain about being cheated. The family may have signed a document forfeiting the family home or agreeing to a fine of $10,000 if crew become involved with foreign labour organizations.

The complaints from Andy and the conditions on board are what we deal with every day as inspectors climbing gangways.

But in Canada, in 2017, they take on heightened significance. With the election of Donald Trump and a stake now run through the heart of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trudeau is rushing headlong to sign away Canadian sovereignty for trade favours from China. He has rewarded John McCallum for his work in breaking open the doors to temporary foreign workers with the job of ambassador to China. McCallum’s primary responsibility will be to quickly clear a path to signing a trade deal with China. McCallum does this knowing that as China rolls across the globe with an insatiable appetite for resources and technology, it insists on using its own workers as a condition of any trade deal. (British Colombians will know this to be true; when the BC Liberals did a deal with Chinese coal giant HD Mining for Murray River, 494 of 764 miners were to be Chinese TFWs.)

With McCallum already easing access to TFWs and the Liberals determined to strike trade deals at any cost, it’s not a stretch to believe we could see thousands of Chinese TFWs brought in for projects in Canada in coming years.

On the maritime front, that’s horrifying. Consider just one of the early messages Andy sent us, and try to imagine a Canadian worker writing with such fear:

“My situation of our vessel, that is our wage did not pay for two months more, and other bad treatment for us,
I want send you some evidence, but please keep it as secret, because the master and company can guess who I am. If you want give the evidence to the Port State Control please tell them keep it as secret, it is all forgery.”
— Andy from M/V YANGZE 7

After weeks at anchor near Nanaimo, Andy’s vessel finally came in to Vancouver to load grain for Buena Ventura, Columbia. The ship was under time charter to Cargill Inc., an American, privately-held global corporation based in the U.S.

Peter Lahay, the ITF’s Canadian coordinator, first boarded the ship on Sunday, Jan. 22. He could feel tension and nervousness from the crew at the gangway. But during his investigation, none of the crew would complain about anything — not wages, family allotments or conditions. Nothing. Before boarding, Lahay had been told by Andy and Ohori that for two months, families in China had not received any of the wages that should have been deposited for them. The families had been cheated of a whopping $87,062, it would later turn out. But crew only stared back at Lahay with carefully blank faces when asked if they had been paid. They told him he would have to ask the captain — knowing he would not give Lahay the answers he was after either.

Captain Jian Sheng Wang was very nervous when Lahay entered his office. He seemed uncertain how to answer questions and at times pretended not to understand them, apparently hoping his blank looks and the language difference would run out the clock. He did hand over some documents that he said proved some of the salaries had been paid. But he was uncooperative in handing over other documents that he was obliged to produce required under terms of the collective agreement in force aboard the ship. His game appeared to be to frustrate Lahay and to convince him that all was well on board. It worked to a degree; Lahay did leave frustrated. But he planned to return the next day with Cindy Li, Chinese-born bookkeeper for Local 400 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

By the time Lahay got home on Jan. 22, he had already received another email from Andy, who acknowledged Lahay’s visit and reported that the captain had gone immediately to the bridge to call and warn the company about the visit and to tell them they should transfer the wages into the crew’s bank accounts. Andy also reported that the captain warned them again not to talk to the ITF, and said that everyone aboard was scared — including the captain.

The following day, Lahay and Li boarded again. Lahay asked Li to talk with the crew in a friendly, supportive way as the two passed through the ship, reassuring them and explaining the mission. She was also assigned to help Lahay in the captain’s office as he attempted to uncover the documents he would need to advance the wage and late-payment claim.

After more than an hour’s questioning and prodding, the captain handed Lahay the Seafarers Employment Contracts that reflected what crew were actually being paid. These contracts showed wages much lower than those stipulated in the collective agreement in force aboard the ship, and proved the crew were being cheated. Lahay suddenly had everything he needed to press a claim. And under terms of  the Maritime Labour Convention, the vessel was now detainable by Transport Canada and Port State Control.

The captain had screwed up. He got sloppy with the cheating, something that doesn’t happen often. Lahay offered a cynical round of applause to the captain for the exceptionally hard work he had done to conceal the company’s cheating of the crew. Lahay also assured the man — again, dripping cynicism — that it was not the captain’s fault that the ITF had now secured enough evidence to jack up the ship until crew were paid their lawful salary.

With the captain beside him, Lahay then telephoned Shanghai Run Yuan Shipping in Shanghai, China. It was 6 a.m. in Shanghai when general manager Jimmy Gong answered his mobile phone. It sounded like he had been up for hours. He probably had. Lahay told Gong that the vessel would be detained and Cargill notified if Gong did not immediately ensure that the previous two months’ wages were deposited in the crews’ accounts — and that Lahay would begin recalculating the balance of cheated salary that would also need to be repaid. Gong agreed. He had no choice.

Lahay left the vessel noting to himself that many of the crew had just come aboard on Dec. 3 and that the wage claim would not be very large. The extent of the cheating had yet to fully sink in.

Then the calculations began. Sixteen of the 21 crew had just joined, meaning Lahay could only claim one month for them. For most crew, the average they’d been cheated was about $1,400 per month — which still meant they were entitled to more than double what the company was paying them. But four of the men had incredible sums coming back to them, the electrical engineer topping the list at $14,831.40.

Not including the payments for overdue wages that Lahay had already made Gong pay into the accounts, the wage claim was $59,404.08. If the ITF had caught this ship a month earlier — before the crew change that sent 16 other cheated men home to their families without justice — the claim would have exceeded $225,000.

To fend off a detention by Transport Canada, the company began a furious push to get enough cash into Vancouver to satisfy the claim. It arrived on board two days before Chinese New Year, a holiday when money is traditionally given out to bring good luck.

It was a bittersweet moment for Lahay and Li as they climbed the gangway to witness the crew payout. Both knew the right thing was being done, but also that it would more than likely be quickly undone as the crew sailed off and the money was seized from them. Crew emotions were clearly mixed too — but the excitement was blanketed with a palpable sense of dread about what might happen after the payout.

Lahay had prepared a statement of wage adjustment for crew to sign as they were paid, and an indemnity and non-revocation clause to be signed by the the captain on behalf of the company and Lahay. The statement read: “The company will not revoke agreement to pay the crew their lawful ITF salary and no threats or actions will be made against the crew or their families. The company promises to pay the crew according to the ITF collective bargaining agreement presently in force aboard Yangze 7.”

Each and every crew member paid out was given a complete explanation of why and how they were receiving the extra salary, and told that the company had agreed not to take it back.

One worker began to sob. He had never seen that much cash in his life, he said. In front of him were the wages he had been cheated of since July. He had been paid about $900 a month, or about 43 per cent what he should have been given. The sight of the cash in front of him was overwhelming.

It was apparently an emotional moment for Captain Wang too. After the money was paid out and the crew had left the office, he began raving at Lahay, claiming the ITF had helped to kill off Hanjin Shipping, that it made the ITF happy to hurt companies and that because of the ITF, more seamen would be unemployed. It was clear things were not going to go well, and as Lahay took a final pass through the ship, the captain made a point of shadowing Lahay — ensuring he had no opportunity to look crew in the eyes and tell them to summon courage.

Later that night, Lahay got this email from Andy:

Dear Peter
thanks for your help. master are recovering the money from the crews now. Because my nationality is china, I can not tell you the truth. Some of the crew are the kinsfolk of the shipowner if I said something  to you, the company will know that, please forgive me I have no the brave,
whatever, thanks for your help these days, thanks for your hard working and kind hearted help for all
crews happy spring festival, please do not say anything to the master and company, keep it silently,
at the last, thanks you again for everything you did, happy chinese new year.”

We will have more to say about this case later.

For now, we condemn the Trudeau government in the strongest possible terms for its blind and shameful pursuit of a neo-liberal trade agenda that will build this class of oppressed labour directly into the Canadian economy.

Shame on them for decreeing that sunny ways are meant only for the privileged class, like the Trudeaus — born with a famous name, an overflowing bank account and the kind of gauzy, idealistic view of China not available to pragmatists who weren’t raised on family stories of a wealthy father’s legendary chat with Chairman Mao. Citizens around the globe are demanding their governments take stock of the damage such attitudes have done to their countries, their communities and their families. Canadians have joined that fight.

Shame on the Liberals for sending John McCallum — former chief economist for the Royal Bank of Canada — to pave the way for a one-sided trade agreement with China. China doesn’t do trade agreements or corporate deals unless they favour China. There will be no quid pro quo, and Trudeau knows that. So does McCallum.

Shame on the Trudeau government for racing with ideological zeal to condemn generations of Canadians to foreign and corporate control — and for telling tens of thousands of Canadian maritime workers they will soon be tossed from their jobs so that industry can exploit vulnerable fellow workers like Andy.

Mostly, shame on them for assuming Canadians approve of, or will stand for, any of this. We won’t.

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This is what standing up for workers sounds like. It’s beautiful.

Here’s how it looked in Vancouver Jan. 12 as maritime workers and their supporters rallied to protest the Liberal government’s plan to wipe out job protections for Canadian dockers and seafarers. Voices were just as loud at rallies in Prince Rupert, Victoria, Toronto, Montreal and St. John’s as our national movement gathered steam.

We’re taking a week across the country to debrief and finalize our next steps, and we’ll have more videos and photos of the rallies shortly. Meantime, if you want to remind yourself why it’s important to leave Canadians on deck, keep foreign shipping hands off our docks and ports, and keep our marine environment safe, you can drift down these rivers and waterways.

Thanks to The Docker Podcast for the video clip above.

 

 

Our Day of Action: We’re on the loud, rowdy move today

Maritime workers are just hours away from kicking off our national Day of Action to protect the Liberal government’s plans to dismantle the Canadian maritime industry.

Time to lace up your marching boots and hit the streets. We need to raise our voices and make it clear: Hands off our docks! Leave Canadians on deck!

We’re already getting some attention. Andrew McLeod has a story in The Tyee. Stay tuned later today for more on how things unfold and a look at how things sounded in the streets.

We’ve also got the support of the ITF headquarters in London. Here’s how their statement looks:

ITF applauds Canadian maritime workers’ action day

ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) leaders have spoken out in support of mass union actions later today in Canada to protect maritime workers’ jobs and skills.

12/01/2017

Workers and concerned citizens will be rallying in Montreal, Toronto, Prince Rupert, Victoria and Vancouver in defence of maritime cabotage, which helps safeguard jobs in national trade. Despite its proven advantages and union victories to uphold it (see https://goo.gl/J5Z4EE), the principle is under Canadian government attack.

ITF president Paddy Crumlin applauded the initiative: “Cabotage is a no-brainer. Its merits are obvious. To attempt to roll it back in a country like Canada where it has been proved to be so valuable is baffling. It defies logic. Thankfully the nation’s maritime workers and their unions understand what a seemingly remote political class does not – the need to fight for what is right and what is worth saving.”

ITF general secretary Steve Cotton added: “We’re glad to see the ITF standing as part of this important national initiative that seeks to keep Canada strong, skilled and employed.

“Cabotage protects jobs, coastal communities and even national security, all concepts that Canadians understand and support. Today’s rallies prove this.”

For more about today’s events see this post from ITF Canada: https://goo.gl/GyFJKE. For details of how cabotage laws protect skills see http://goo.gl/hzqkgE

 

 

Maritime Workers Day of Action January 12

rally

Canadian maritime workers will take to the streets again on Jan. 12. Our movement continues to gather strength as we fight hard to protect decent jobs and Canadian communities — and ensure that our marine environment is safe for future generations.

We ask you to join us to be part of something big. Join us as we link hands with our allies in First Nations and NGO communities. Join us in the fight against the federal Liberal government’s ignorant and flat-out assault on maritime jobs — and its plans sell us out to corporate greed.

Canadian maritime and transport workers and their unions are united in our determination to see this struggle through to the end. Our ranks are swelling. The streets are filling.

Here are the times and places you can take part in our marches Thursday, followed by a short backgrounder on the acts of utter disrespect by the Liberal government that have drawn us into the streets.

Montreal: 12:30-2:30 pm Jan. 12. Meeting at 200-1333 Rue St-Jacques, marching to office of Transport Minister Marc Garneau, 340-4060 Rue Ste-Catherine.

Toronto: 12:30-2:30 pm Jan. 12. Meeting at Matt Cohen Park (intersection of Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue), marching to office of Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, 344 Bloor Street West.

Vancouver: 9:45-11:30 am Jan. 12. Meeting at Denman Street and Beach Avenue (English Bay), marching to office of Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Dr. Hedy Fry, 106-1030 Denman Street (Denman Place Mall).

Victoria: 10 am Jan. 12. Rally at Ogden Point, 152 Dallas Road.

Prince Rupert:  10 am, Jan. 12. Rally at Transport Canada office, 309 2 Avenue West.

JOIN OUR DAY OF ACTION ON JANUARY 12:
PROTECT CANADA’S MARITIME JOBS AND ENVIRONMENT

Leave Canadians on deck — don’t deregulate our safe seas!
Hands off our Docks!

We’re asking you to help us take it to the streets as maritime and transport workers join in a National Day of Action on Jan. 12, 2017.

We’ll be raising our voices publicly, nationwide, in defense of the maritime jobs and the coastlines now under attack by the federal Liberal Government. They’re out to dismantle cabotage — the legal guarantees that ensure maritime work in Canada remains in the hands of trained and dedicated Canadian workers. Specifically, we’ll be calling out the Trudeau government for its intention to adopt the Emerson Report on the Canadian Transportation Act — which calls for dismantling of the hard-won safety net of regulations that requires people and goods moving between two Canadian locations be transported by Canadian companies with Canadian equipment and Canadian workers. In the maritime world, these regulations are known as cabotage.
The Emerson Report would change all that — and mean the death of 12,000 good maritime jobs that support families and communities across Canada. At risk is every Canadian who works aboard a ship, tug, ferry, barge or dredge. The Trudeau government’s goal? To allow the industry to hire foreign seafarers paid as little as $1.26 per hour – a wage no Canadian worker can live on. And that’s just where it starts. Job losses will mushroom across air and rail transport in the tens of thousands for all the same reasons.

The gift to industry doesn’t end there. Canada’s ports — built with billions of dollars of public infrastructure investment — will be further privatized. Payments to surrounding municipalities, already reduced, will be slashed. Private investment will drive decisions on opening our Arctic, and decisions on climate-change action will be aimed at coordinating with the United States, a country now poised to dismantle much of its already minimal environmental commitment.

We know that beyond the straightforward social and economic costs, changes to cabotage will put our marine environment at higher risk. Canadian seafarers are largely unionized, which gives them the ability to speak up and stop environmental degradation when they see it. They are committed to their families, community and coasts.

Vulnerable, poorly paid foreign workers who fear retribution and blacklisting and struggle to work for dollars a day are far less likely to speak up. We know this through our daily work on decks and docks across the country. Those of us who represent Canadian seafarers form the support network for the International Transportation Workers Federation (ITF) as it stands up for crew who sail aboard foreign-flagged vessel. We bear witness all too often to the men and women for whom a job at sea means everything to their families at home — and speaking up at work about poor safety conditions on board or poor environmental practices can mean dismissal.

None of this is imaginary. Last fall, the Nathan E. Stewart, the foreign-flagged tugboat, ran aground off Bella Bella in B.C., leaking thousands of litres of diesel fuel into the water. The vessel was operating with a waiver exempting it from Canadian regulations that would otherwise have required it to carry a B.C. coast pilot on board during its passage, ensuring local knowledge of the waters it sailed.

The Canadian Transportation Agency has also issued an eight-year waiver to the foreign owners of the Cable Innovator, an underwater cable-repair ship stationed in Victoria.The majority of the 50 foreign are paid less than $4 per hour to work in Canadian waters — even though current cabotage regulations require use of a Canadian company and a Canadian vessel employing Canadian seafarers earning Canadian wages.
In yet another example, in Newfoundland, the Woodwards group of companies has reflagged vessels from Canada to the Marshall Islands, allowing them to lay off up to 100 Canadians and replace them with low-paid foreign crew.

The solution to this assault on our communities and coasts is to LEAVE CANADIANS ON DECK and HANDS OFF OUR DOCKS!

YOU can help save our coast and our jobs!

Send an email to: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, BC Liberal caucus leader Hedy Fry and your MP. Demand they protect good paying Canadian jobs and our environment by rejecting the Emerson Report.

For more information in BC, please contact ILWU Canada.

ILWU-Canada: 604-254-8141 or officers@ilwu.ca

In Eastern Canada, please contact Charles-Etienne Aubry at 514-931-8285 or caubry@seafarers.ca.

You can also express your opposition to:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca or Justin Trudeau /House of Commons/ Ottawa, Ontario KlA OA6

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau: marc.garneau@parl.gc.ca or Marc Garneau/ House of Commons I Ottawa, Ontario KlA OA6

BC Liberal Caucus leader Hedy Fry: hedy.frv@parl.gc.ca or Hedy Fry I House of Commons I Ottawa, Ontario KlA OA6

Letters mailed to members of parliament do not require stamps.

Your Saturday Listen: There really is power in a movement

Time to get your elbows up, brothers and sisters. If this rockin’ duo of Billy Bragg and Brother Rob Ashton doesn’t get your fist raised and your feet marching, well, you might want to sip of a little of this to prime the pump. And maybe a chaser of this.

You can leave your comments below. Solidarity, right?

 

Solidarity: It moved a mighty mountain

moneySolidarity is more than a slogan. It’s a muscle. And that muscle just moved $261,346.53 US — more than a quarter-million dollars — into the pockets of 19 Filipino crew who had been cheated of that much in wages when they sailed into Vancouver Monday.

As we reported Tuesday, the crew of the Ben Wyvis had just arrived from a month at anchor off Vancouver Island to load grain. Wages that support families, pay rent and school and medical bills back home, that should have provided their families a Christmas, had been withheld for three months. Food on board was running out. And more than half of the crew had been trapped in their workplace for months past their contracts’ return-home date.

Today, they were paid out in full — both the allotments that should have been sent home to family accounts, and the on-board pay that keeps them going during brief stopovers in ports while working.

The 12 of the 19 crew whose contracts have expired are being repatriated today. It’s too late for the Christmas they missed — which came on top of the Christmas the year before that they had been away working as well — but we wish them a safe and joyous return.

It’s a great lesson to all of us as we move into formation for 2017. Solidarity matters.

The Ben Wyvis flies a flag of convenience. It’s registered in the Marshall Islands, providing the owners and operators the lightest and friendliest of financial and regulatory burdens on earth. It also provides them the ability to exploit vulnerable crew.

Let’s be clear. The Greek managers of the vessel agreed to pay the wages owing only because they faced the risk, and the wrath, of the labour movement that stood up to them. The ITF was able to board, determine that the wages were owing and demand that they be paid by up by this morning. We do so on the strength of the solidarity of the world’s transport unions, the contracts we have fought for and continue to defend daily, and the international conventions that we have battled into place. In Canada, in the case of the Ben Wyvis, ITF Canadian Coordinator Peter Lahay was able to make it clear to the ship’s operators that should they fail to pay up, Transport Canada would be called in to detain the ship for breaches of the collective bargaining agreement and the Maritime Labour Convention — a tool won only through the strong, sustained and focused work of organized workers around the world.

We’re pleased for the crew of the Ben Wyvis. We remain concerned, though, as the ship sails for Ecuador today with its load of Canadian wheat. The company appears to be operating six ships, and appears to be troubled, and we can only assume those crews are faring no better than the ones we had the honour of assisting in Vancouver.

We thank our brothers and sisters in Canada and elsewhere for their interest in this case and the support they have shown. And we ask that your energy is directed to our next battle in Canada: the sellout of Canadian maritime jobs. Ratification of the looming CETA trade deal between Canada and the European Union will mean the shameful theft of decent maritime jobs now guaranteed by law to Canadians, and the right for international operators to replace our workers with vulnerable and exploitable foreign crew. Enactment of recommendations of the hypocritical Emerson report on changes to the regulations governing Canada’s transportation industry will spell the end of cabotage, the law that protects Canadian coastal trade. Cheap and vulnerable foreign crew will flood our ferries, tugs, barges, ships and docks, and all the trucking and drayage connected with them.

One Ben Wyvis is one too many. We cannot allow their employer’s disgraceful behaviour — and the behaviour of the other bottom-feeders in the industry — to define maritime work in Canada. And we should not design a world in which workers are assigned the role of mopping up the mess left by disproportionately corporate-friendly trade deals.

We’ll be raising our voices on Jan. 12 on just that topic. You might want to stay tuned.

The faces of Canada’s latest trade deal: 19 crew cheated of a quarter-million in wages

ben_wyvis

Photo courtesy of MarineTraffic.com

For a couple of years now, Canada’s seafarering and longshore unions have been sticking our fingers in the chest of our federal government, trying to get them to understand that their corporate-rights deals — like CETA — will cost Canadians high quality maritime jobs and invite open exploitation of foreign workers.

But sometimes real life screams louder than we ever could.

Just ask the 19 Filipino crew of the Ben Wyvis, a bulk carrier that just motored in to the Port of Vancouver to load Canadian wheat bound for Ecuador.

None of the crew has been paid in three months — which means no money has gone home to families in the Philippines for rent or food or medicine or school expenses, or for Christmas. Pay on-board — the little slice of money that tides seafarers over during their months at sea and brief port visits — hasn’t been paid either. The unpaid wages as of year’s end totalled more than $260,000 US. More than a quarter of a million dollars. Imagine.

Eleven of the 19 men have been on board that ship since Dec. 18 of 2015, well past the 10 months they had contracted to work. They just spent a second straight Christmas on the ship, without seeing home at any point between the two holidays. Again, imagine.

In a final insult, food was running short as they sat at anchor in Houston Pass near Nanaimo for a month, waiting for their cargo to arrive in Vancouver and the ship to be called alongside to load.

While they were anchored in the Gulf Islands, they emailed ITF Canadian coordinator Peter Lahay to say they were due to arrive in port unpaid. Wages were owing and provisions were going to run out in days, one crew member wrote. “I hope you can help us,” his note ended. “Please don’t reveal my email address.”

Lahay investigated and has found the claims were true. The monies are in fact owing. He has contacted the ship’s managers and the crew managers to demand that all crew be paid up in full until the end of December. A full answer and a confirmation of payment was needed by Wednesday, Lahay has told them, or Transport Canada will be asked to investigate and detain the ship under breaches of the collective bargaining agreement and the Maritime Labour Convention.

On the one hand, the case is the same kind of job that ITF inspectors in Canada, and around the world, do every day: enforce and defend seafarers’ contractual rights.

On the other, it couldn’t be a clearer or more timely example of why we have also stepped into the fight to protect the jobs of Canadian maritime workers, now under massive threat as the federal Liberal government moves to finalize new trade deals and gut the laws and regulations that govern Canadian transport.

We have spoken out about Canada’s disgraceful pursuit of a free trade deal with Europe. Stay tuned. We’ll be cranking up the volume again on Jan. 12. More on that later.

The end goal of the Liberal government, like the Conservative government before it, is clear: to steal the jobs now guaranteed by law to Canadian maritime workers, and to allow companies to replace those workers with cheaper and more exploitable labour.

You don’t have to look any farther than the men aboard the Ben Wyvis, sitting at one end of the spout that will move grain into their ship. The able seamen, who provide qualified labour, make $3.22 an hour. They have been held in the ship, their workplace, three months longer than they agreed to work. They have not been paid during any of that time. And if they complain, they will lose their jobs and face possible blacklisting, ruling out any future work. At the other end of that spout is a Canadian grain worker, whose paycheque arrives on time, who has a labour board to back him up when a dispute arises, who doesn’t fear blacklisting should he speak out against his employer — and his employer knows that.

The Ben Wyvis flies the flag of the Marshall Islands. It is managed in Greece, which is part of the European Union that our political leaders have told us — over and over again — holds the trade key to our prosperity.

Lahay, now awaiting word on whether those Greek managers will agree to pay their workers the wages they have been cheated of, says his latest case a clear warning of what the deal really means.

“The Liberal minister wept with joy when the deal was signed,” he says.

“We should all be weeping. We are letting this industry take jobs from Canadians and replace them with some of the world’s most marginalized and isolated workers. On the Ben Wyvis, they exploited the crew openly, brazenly. They know the men won’t complain about food until they are nearly starving. They know they can cheat them. The fear in that email, that heartbreaking plea to keep his email and his name secret, tells you all you need to know,” Lahay says.

“Trudeau’s Liberals — fronted by International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland — have decided to play along with the bottom-feeders of the industry. Shame on them. And shame on us if we let them.”