Monthly Archives: February 2017

We’re hitting the streets to save our jobs. Stand up, fight back!

15965872_1319502168093099_3322824687644728747_nFor immediate release — because we’re out the door to a loud, rowdy, hands-off-our-jobs rally! More to follow.

Vancouver—Transport workers will march through downtown Vancouver Thursday morning to demand Ottawa abandon plans to gut transportation regulations, hand Canadian jobs to vulnerable foreign workers, and sell off public airports and seaports to foreign corporate interests.


WHERE: 701 West Georgia Street, Vancouver (Federal Court of Canada)

WHEN:  10:00 am

Global trade-union legend Paddy Crumlin, president of the London-based International Transport Workers Federation, will address the rally. The protest will be led by Unifor, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, and the Seafarers International Union of Canada. Also participating are the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union, the Canadian Merchant Service Guild and the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Crumlin, long known for his loud, rowdy role as national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, is expected to highlight the growing global fightback by transport workers under assault by transnational corporations.

Unifor and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada represent workers in air, rail, ports, trucking, marine, and ferry services. They are calling on the federal government to protect the more than 900,000 Canadian jobs threatened by the action plan laid out by David Emerson in his recent report on the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government commissioned the plan for dismantling the Canadian transportation system. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have actively embraced its recommendations, spending heavily for consultants to report on pushing Emerson’s recommendations forward.

“Canada’s airports belong to Canadians. Selling them off to corporations will only result in higher costs for passengers,” says Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s BC Area Director. “If Justin Trudeau doesn’t abandon this flawed report now, he will simply be advancing Stephen Harper’s privatization legacy.”

Rob Ashton, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, says: “This rally is to protest changes that would deregulate Canada’s maritime sector and allow foreign workers to take as many as 12,000 jobs now done by Canadian seafarers. Ottawa also wants to sell off Port of Vancouver operations piecemeal to foreign offshore corporations.

“We are telling the Liberal government to leave Canadians on deck—don’t deregulate our safe seas and sell off our national port and airport infrastructure,” says Ashton. “Foreign corporations with no stake in Canada could put our economy and environment at risk with no benefit to the nation.”

Crumlin adds: “It’s a disgrace really, that a widely respected democratic and wonderful country like Canada—which has stood for values of properly regulated national employment and decent work for its workers, responsible corporate behaviour and civil and human rights—is prepared to simply throw away that reputation.

“It makes no sense to toss out your ability to govern your domestic transportation infrastructure in the national interest, or to hand it to offshore foreign corporations whose sole preoccupation is labor exploitation, minimum security standards and tax avoidance as their competitive edge.”

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing more than 310,000 workers.

The International Longshore Workers’ Union Canada (ILWU) is comprised of over 6,000 members at 12 autonomous locals and three affiliates: Retail Wholesale Union-BC, Retail Wholesale Department Store Union-Saskatchewan, and the Grain Services Union.

The Seafarers International Union of Canada (SIU) represents the majority of unlicensed sailors working aboard vessels on the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, on the East Coast and the West Coast.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is an international federation of nearly 700 unions, representing more than 4.5 million transport workers from 150 countries.

Gavin McGarrigle, BC Area Director Unifor at 778-668-6455.

Rob Ashton, President of ILWU Canada at 604-862-8141.

Diane Given, SIU at (905) 227-5213.

Peter Lahay, ITF National Coordinator Canada at 604-418-0345.


Tensions happen aboard. Violence shouldn’t.

Bulk carrier loads in Port-Cartier, Que.

Bulk carrier loads in Port Cartier, Que.

ITF inspectors deal with an enormous range of issues — as enormous as human behaviour. Sometimes the problem is non-payment of wages, or onboard conditions like lack of food, clothing or heat. Other times, we’re called in to help sort out the kinds of things that happen on a long voyage where a group of workers live, eat and work together for months and behave at times like all of us do.

Many times we are called in over an on-board dispute. Sometimes it’s harassment — occasionally sexual harassment — and sometimes it’s just a good time gone bad, much like happens ashore. Ships can be that way; they’re crewed by human beings. On those occasions, our job is to ask that government authorities like police investigate thoroughly and treat crimes committed aboard foreign-flagged vessels in Canadian waters just as they would any other crime they may be called to investigate.

Vince Giannopoulos, the ITF’s Great Lakes/St. Lawrence inspector, ran into one of those cases this month. We pass along his story, in his words.

Vince writes:

I was onboard a vessel in Montreal this month conducting a routine inspection. The crew was happy and the captain was very professional. Then, just before completing that inspection, I received a call from Transport Canada officials on the north shore east of Quebec City.

Information was limited, but they advised me that while the Portuguese-flagged Linda Oldendorff was at anchor outside Port Cartier, an altercation had taken place between three crew members. I was told two had been rushed to hospital via launch boats, and that one was being held in his cabin until the police could arrive.

The ship had arrived from Rotterdam to the bay near Port Cartier on Jan. 20. One of the ratings who had been with the company for many years had received confirmation that he would be promoted to an officer — something he had been eagerly awaiting for a long time. In his honour, the crew decided to hold a little celebration; the Russian captain approved and was happy to see his crew enjoying themselves.

The crew was a mix of many nationalities. The officers were Sri Lankans, Indonesians and Turks; the ratings, which included Filipinos, were similarly mixed. They had always gotten along, and there was no reason to think it would be any different on this night.

It is still unclear exactly what caused emotions in the room to change, but the details I was provided indicate that at one point in the night, the motorman had become visibly upset. This lead to a disagreement between him and a deckhand. After some petty arguing, the 2nd engineer thought he should step in and calm the motorman down, so he approached him. It took a turn for the worst at this point, I was told, and as the motorman’s emotions boiled over, he grabbed a bottle, smashed it over the table and attacked the deckhand and 2nd engineer. He didn’t do much damage — relatively speaking — to the DH, but landed a hit on the 2nd engineer, piercing his neck in two spots, I understand. The crew reacted quickly; they rushed to the engineer and got him to a safe location. According to the witnesses, they had never seen so much blood. They reacted in such an efficient and professional manner that by the time the paramedics had arrived on the ship, they had already managed to stop the bleeding with some bandages, and all that was left was for the paramedics to transport him to the hospital to receive proper medical treatment. 

The 2/E spent a couple of days in hospital, but before long was released and spent the rest of his time in a hotel room, waiting to receive his ticket home. He is due to get married very shortly. When I saw him at the hotel, I had already completed my inspection of the ship and had some idea of the story of that night. I told him how surprised I was that the motorman had not been taken into custody. The 2/E showed me the business cards from the officers who had investigated the case, and told me that the man who attacked him was a father of two. He said he understood that if the man was charged, the two children would likely grow up in terrible conditions with no father, with no one to help the family financially — so he really did not want any charges laid. 

I still have mixed feelings about that way of thinking, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the thoughtfulness of the 2/E. 

Both men will be flown home separately, with one being escorted to the plane by security guards at the choice and expense of the company. And an officer onboard with the necessary qualifications will be promoted so as to satisfy the safe manning of the vessel, which will sail for China, arriving in about a month from now.


The saga of the MV Jana: Two years later, solidarity holds a crew together

For the ITF's Atlantic inspector Karl Risser, solidarity is everything.

For the ITF’s Atlantic inspector Karl Risser (left), solidarity is everything.

For Canadians experiencing what feels like a bit of cold winter bite, we thought we’d share this short note from our Atlantic inspector Karl Risser, who has been providing ongoing support and solidarity for crew of a small bulk carrier that’s been stranded in the remote port of Argentia, Newfoundland, for two-and-a-half years.

Karl is reporting in on his recent success in helping update backwages owing to crew who remain aboard the Antigua-flagged vessel, still stuck alongside as the owners continue to ponder its future.

The Jana pulled into Argentia in August of 2014, having arrived from Poland with a cargo of steel rails delivered to Halifax. At the time, it needed significant engine repairs.

Karl is doing the kind of thing ITF inspectors climb gangways daily around the world to accomplish: supporting a crew’s right to a safe workplace, wages paid on time and a contract that is honoured. But not even daily exposure to this kind of case makes it less troubling to see workers faced with uncertainty about food, wages and a safe trip home. Or to see the men who have agreed to fly around the world to help maintain a company’s asset treated with such stunning disrespect.

Karl writes:

In my first year as a ITF inspector, I have built some special relationships with some of fantastic crew I meet on board vessels. The crew aboard the MV Jana, stuck in the port of Argentia in Newfoundland right now, are a great example of how workers help each other in tough circumstances.

Their vessel has been sitting for sometime now and they’re unclear what the owners have planned for future work. The present crew aboard to keep the ship safe and in order — there are nine of them — are from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

On multiple occasions there have been major delays with payroll. The latest example was in December; workers didn’t receive that month’s pay until Jan. 27. They were owed $52,720. You can imagine the uncertainty it creates on a vessel with an already uncertain future when wages for work done don’t get handed over on time. For these men, it means they’re on the job, working unpaid, knowing that family can’t pay bills back home. They’re foreign seafarers in a foreign land wondering if they’re going to be stuck in the cold with no pay, no job and no way home.

In January, they were fortunate. Payment was received and the owner remains committed to the vessel and is working to correct the issues with payroll with management company and manning agency. I am continuing to monitor the situation.

I should say that they can also thank John Boland of Unifor’s Fish, Food and Allied Workers branch in Newfoundland for his assistance. John has supported this crew and my work many times. The solidarity means a lot to our work, and to the crew.

The MV Jana, now idled, isn’t covered by an ITF agreement, but it is my hope that the vessel secures work and that we are able to get agreement on board in the future.

As always, like all ITF inspectors, I’m working to support all seafarers — union and nonunion. But I will say it’s good to see these workers feeling the power and support of a union. Some have already joined the ITF-affiliated national seafarers unions in their respective countries.

In solidarity,