Monthly Archives: December 2017

From our docks to their decks: Extending a holiday hand

Longshore workers won the Ukrainian crew of the Orient Trader new quilted coveralls, hats, gloves, coats, boots and outstanding wages.

As longshoremen in BC looked forward to Christmas — one of the rare days that docks across the entire province are idled — some of our rank-and-file members decided to share a little Christmas cheer with seafarers tied up alongside their docks over the holiday period.

The men and women dug into their own pockets to prep hampers full of Christmas treats — including toques, socks, turkeys, sweets and even cards they had designed themselves. And then they fanned out to deliver the baskets on Dec. 23 and 24 to vessels from the Fraser River and Deltaport in the south to Prince Rupert in the north.

The ITF Canada blog proudly salutes these maritime workers. We wanted to share just a few of the photos they took while delivering their gifts.

Owen Dixon, wife Sherri Farrell and their children climbed aboard in Prince Rupert to share holiday cheer with crew.

Dave Lund and Richard Larsen delivered holiday goods to the crew of the Kodiak Island, who were in BC to load logs in Prince Rupert.

Dan Kask and Rollie Hurtubise on one of four ships at Fraser Surrey Docks on the 24th. Kask observed: “Turns out the Chinse crew don’t know the word Merry Xmas, they just say Christmas and bow.”

Get a load of the goods.

Jeremy Noullet,Stephanie Dobler and Ian Neely aboard the Orca I delivering Christmas cheer and a message that the ship is not covered by an ITF CBA.

Steph and Ian take a break from playing Santa. Star date 23.12.17.

With Indian crew on the San Diego Bridge at Deltaport.

Chris Owen, John Cameron and his daughter Taylor on board the COSCO Thailand at Prince Rupert.

Solidarity Christmas card for the crew of the New York Express at Delta Port. Design by Jeremy.

With the crew of New York Express.

A Christmas card designed by longshoreman Dan Kask provided seafarers a link to the ITF app and the helpline they can use when they need support.

 

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Island hopping: Finding paradise in solidarity

Crew of the Vega Omega meet with ITF Atlantic Inspector Karl Risser.

ITF inspectors can’t solve every problem singlehandedly. We lean on solidarity for strength — sometimes seeking it locally, sometimes from thousands of miles away.

Here’s an example. Karl Risser, our Atlantic Coast inspector, reports in on how he teamed up and coordinated with ITF unions in Barbados and Jamaica. Together, they brought relief to the families of the crew aboard two German-owned ships, and set minds at ease for the men who had to continue on what was an already difficult voyage. The ITF Canada wants to acknowledge the solid support and massive efforts of the Barbados Workers Union and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union of Jamaica.

Karl writes:

As the year comes to a end and I look back at 2017, one case stands out from the rest. It’s the story of international solidarity pushing back against a German shipowner who had repeatedly failed to pay the Filipino crew working aboard the Vega Omega and the Spica for months at a time.

The story started with complaints made early in the year by  the Vega Omega crew to the seafarers centre in Halifax. I contacted Transport Canada’s Port State Control officials and headed onboard for an inspection. The captain openly confirmed that the crew had not been paid for three months. He had not been paid either, and that helped. Together, we contacted the company. I informed them that their vessel was not leaving until payment was arranged and that a PSC officer was on his way to join us on the vessel.

Knowing they had no options, the owner paid out the wages and the ship left Halifax for what would be the last time. The German owner changed the vessel’s route, but our crew contact continued to report problems with not being paid. I continued to monitor the situation, but could not help because the company no longer responded to my emails. They knew the ports that the vessel was calling into had no ITF inspectors.

Luckily, the ITF affiliate Barbados Workers Union received a complaint and jumped into action itself with their maritime officials. The vessel was detained in Bridgetown late in the year until crew were paid the three months’ wages that had accumulated since the Vega Omega left Halifax.

It truly inspires me to know ITF-affiliated unions around the world are engaged and care about seafarers. And that all it takes is for us to pick up a phone and ask for support — and it appears.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of this story. The Spica — owned by the same German company — took over the Vega Omega’s regular call in Halifax. During a routine inspection, it became clear this crew had the same issues with non-payment of wages. As the case unfolded, another ITF affiliate in Jamaica — Bustamante Industrial Trade Union — stepped up to detain the Spica in Kingston. The crew received payment for three months’ wages before allowing vessel to leave port there.

This shining example of the ITF’s strength confirmed for me that we are an international force for justice. Companies all too often put their obligations to seafarers last on their list of priorities, causing added stress in a already difficult job.

Could you imagine working for your employer for nine months, away from home, with you and your family never knowing if and when you would be  paid? It’s disgraceful.

As we look forward to 2018, ITF Canada plans for several big campaigns. Keep your eyes open as we continue to push back against the FOC attack.

Karl shares a moment with Filipino crew of the Spica.

 

Attitude + action = solidarity

Ukrainian crew of the Orient Trader and longshoremen Jason Franklin (far left) and Dan Kask and Ian Neely (both at right) gather in solidarity at BC’s Fraser Surrey docks.

Solidarity is a wonderful thing. Solidarity plus an informed action plan is even better. In BC this week, the combination resulted in a moment that local longshoreman can be proud of: $33,166 US in unpaid wages returned to the Ukrainian workers who earned them. Eighteen new winter coveralls, 24 parkas, 10 winter hats and 36 pairs of winter boots delivered to crew shivering on deck without proper gear. Fourteen cases of fresh drinking water handed to crew who needed it. All paid for by the employer.

It happened because longshore workers, always determined to express solidarity with foreign seafarers in port, had been trained to express that solidarity in action. It happened because every day, the ILWU-Canada gives life to its motto: An injury to one is an injury to all.

In the final weeks before the holiday break, ITF Canadian Coordinator Peter Lahay and Oregon Inspector Martin Larson led a day-long seminar in Vancouver on the role and work of ITF inspectors. The idea was to explain what flag-of-convenience inspectors do and how they do it, to the longshore workers that are a critical part of our team effort. Turnout was enthusiastic: 25 International Longshore and Warehouse Union members who ranged from new workers to seasoned, experienced union reps.

The seminar stemmed from last year’s ILWU-Canada convention, when members approved a mandate for the ITF to train activists and build our network along the coast of BC.

It didn’t take long to translate enthusiasm into action. Seminar training took place Dec. 13. Five days later, longshoreman Jason Franklin was working on the Fraser Surrey docks when he noticed a Ukrainian seafarer shivering in the cold on the deck of the Orient Trader. The bulk carrier was alongside, discharging cargo. The man was ill-equipped to do his outdoor work. Franklin acted without thinking: he gave the seaman his own coat.

And then Franklin contacted Kal Uppal, business agent for Local 502. Uppal called Lahay. And Lahay — spotting an opportunity for the freshly trained local activists to use the skills they had learned — put out the call for longshoremen to investigate the onboard situation. Ian Neely and Gord Johnson, both from Local 502, were aboard within the hour. Neely kept the officers busy and eventually ended up in the captain’s office, interviewing him about apparent lack of cold-weather gear. Meantime, Johnson slipped away to talk with crew. They were nervous and, as he had been warned in the seminar, not initially forthcoming. Johnson offered them cigarettes to break the ice and encourage them to say what they could.

In the end, it didn’t matter that the crew were reluctant to speak and that the captain was quick to deny any problem. Neely and Johnson could see the situation with their own eyes: the vessel was not in good repair, the crew were poorly clothed and equipped, and seemed nervous and depressed.

“Ian and I noticed right away that the ship looked in disrepair,” says Johnson. “There was rust everywhere. We were surprised to learn the ship was only seven years old.

“The crew, their coveralls looked greasy but not that bad. But their coats were ranging from bad to awful. Some were fraying in places, others had come completely apart. One guy was wearing a new coat given to him by Jason Franklin, one of our guys. The seaman kept gesturing to it and repeating “Canada-man gave me this” when I was asking about his gear.

“I began passing out smokes and asking about their pay, sleep, food, everything I could think of. A small crowd formed as I offered smokes and asked questions. At first I was being told everything was fine, but their hesitation dissipated. One of them told me he hadn’t been sleeping because he’d been working 17 hour days trying to get the cranes going. They told me they were cold and they didn’t have any money. All their grievances came to the surface eventually. I could hear their frustration bubbling up.

“And everything they were telling me directly contradicted what the master had said.”

The longshoremen called Lahay to report their findings, which included excessive hours, poor working conditions, lack of personal protective gear, onboard salaries that were unpaid and overtime that was presumed to have been unpaid too.

Lahay approached the vessel’s owners with a list of the issues and a demand for action. The list included proper cold-weather gear, full payment of wages and overtime owing and a reminder about hours-of-rest requirements. The company agreed to act promptly, and even confessed that home allotments were still owing as well but would be paid. And it forwarded $33,166 US in unpaid wages for work done.

At one point in his exchange with representatives of the vessel’s operator, Lahay had noted that it would be appropriate for the company to acknowledge the solidarity between the crew and local dockers, who understand how difficult life is for seafarers and are alert to their hardships.

The company chose to respond appropriately. It agreed, in writing, that maritime workers should, and do, stick up for one another.

“We … acknowledge the solidarity between the dockers’ workforce and our crew. We appreciate your dockers’ full understanding of the seafarers life,” the owners’ rep wrote to Lahay. “We expect the Master on board to implement to the fullest our Company’s Health, Safety and Quality policy and to alert the Company of any requirements to ensure high standard of safety is at hand at all times.”

The lesson for local workers: that solidarity is as simple as seeing a fellow worker without warm gear and speaking up about it. And that having an informed action plan and a sense of how to proceed can really help.

“Peter’s seminar was a great introduction to the plight of the seafarer, and the roles and processes of an ITF inspector as part of the FOC campaign,” says Dan Kask, chair of the ITF’s young-dockers movement. “But more than that, it was a lesson on the power and the reach and the effect that unified ITF maritime workers, young and old, can have on the lives of seafarers.

“And what happened for the workers on the Orient Trader put that lesson into action.”

“The solidarity between dockers and seafarers goes back many, many years,” Neely adds. “It will continue long after we are all gone. We want seafarers to know that when they are in this port, we always have their backs.”

In the spirit of the season, let us repeat. This is what solidarity looks like: Delivery of 18 quilted winter coveralls, 24 quilted parkas, 10 winter hats, 36 pairs of winter boots — and 14 cases of fresh drinking water. $33,166 US in unpaid wages.  Delivered via the power of a single worker who acted when he saw a seafarer in need — and the power of an international team of workers who acted with him. Who acted on their conviction that through solidarity, they will win dignity, safe workplaces and fair wages.

And this is how solidarity happens: ILWU members acted with the collective power and strength of their own union. Ukrainian crew observed the collective action and power. And ILWU members left them with advice as valuable as the new boots and coats: Join your national trade union. Participate in its activities. It is how we are best able to represent ourselves, and how we teach the next generation of seafarers they have the rights enshrined in the Maritime Labour Convention.