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Day of the Seafarer? Industry needs to put respect on the menu

Vancouver ITF Inspector Nathan Smith breaks bread — actually doughnuts he brought along — during a crew visit at Fraser Surrey docks.

Today is the annual Day of the Seafarer. And we have a suggestion for an industry that claims to salute the men and women who move the world’s goods.

We suggest showing some actual respect. The same muscular respect that workers show to each other, to our families, to our friends, to our communities.

In 2010, the International Maritime Organization designated June 25 as a day to give thanks to seafarers for their contribution to the world economy and to civil society, and for the risks and personal costs they bear while on their jobs.

The maritime industry generally responds with a series of lunches, attended largely by industry, and fundraisers for charitable groups that support seafarers’ centres. It also responds with a generous outpouring of platitudes.

It has become a limp and meaningless salute. It is beyond insulting. 

We’d suggest there is a better way to show respect for seafarers. 

Making life aboard their floating workplaces liveable would be a good start. That would mean addressing undercrewing of vessels, and dealing with fatigue, inadequate salaries, insufficient medical care, long contracts, harassment, bullying and the ever-present threat of blacklisting that serves to keep workers in check.

The crew who labour aboard Flag of Convenience ships remain among the most isolated and marginalized workers in the world.

For the ITF Canada, the Day of the Seafarer is a day to lament and refocus. We once again offer seafarers our thanks, and renew our pledge stand up and support them, wherever and however we can, and to join with other workers worldwide in making that support effective and meaningful.

ITF Vancouver Inspector Nathan Smith brings solidarity and support to crew.

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FoCs: It’s shamefully convenient when there’s an oil spill and a flag is used for legal cover

The 2015 bunker spill from the MV Marathassa shut down Vancouver’s English Bay. (photo courtesy Peter Lahay, ITF Canada co-ordinator)

We call them Flags of Convenience for a reason. And that reason was on full display in a Vancouver courtroom this week when a Greek shipping firm accused of spewing thousands of litres of bunker fuel into English Bay sailed conveniently away from any potential legal responsibility.

In 2015, the Cyprus-flagged MV Marathassa spilled 2,700 litres of bunker into Canada’s busiest port. For three days, the captain of the Marathassa denied that his ship was leaking. But the oil was fingerprinted and the vessel was identified as the source. Charges were laid against the Greek shipping firm Alassia NewShips Management Inc. The 10 charges included alleged violations under the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environment Protection Act.

This being the shadowy world of shipping, Alassia initially argued that it hadn’t been properly notified about the proceedings, but the courts ruled that the summons was successfully delivered on two occasions, to the company’s lawyer and to the captain of another vessel operated by Alassia, while that vessel was in Nanaimo. The provincial court ruled that the captain was qualified as a company representative.

This week, the BC Court of Appeal ruled that he wasn’t, and that the Greek firm hadn’t been served properly — which means the trial is over unless a new summons is served.

This is what it comes to in this system: Canada can’t even manage a prosecution for a simple spill, which may have been accidental, and that was covered by insurance. The government, keen to build pipelines to export our resources, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on an Oceans Protection Plan to assure the public that the resulting increase in tanker traffic is nothing to fear. The government fronts for Big Oil and demands the public accept its comforting words — but in practice can’t prosecute spills when they occur.

It’s all too maddening.

We’ll keep you posted if the Crown decides to pursue another summons application.

Meantime, we cannot say it often enough: The shadowy Flag of Convenience system works for no one. Not for the seafarers cheated and abused by shady owners crouched safely behind their corporate veil. Not for a shipping industry falling increasingly into public disrepute. And not for a country hoping to get its resources to market. Until lines of ownership and responsibility are made transparent and shipping companies are forced to answer for their operations, the madness will continue.

(Here’s the news story about this week’s court case for those international readers unable to open the link above:
Trial halted against Greek company accused of operating MV Marathassa – The Globe and Mail )

 

 

 

 

 

The bitter truth from Liverpool

Tommy Molloy (far right, in blue) aboard supporting crew.

The ITFCanada.org is happy to publish the first international submission from our worldwide inspectorate. Today we welcome aboard Tommy Molloy, our Liverpool-based inspector. Tommy started in the ITF Actions Unit at our London headquarters in the 1990s. He later took the sharp case-handling skills he developed in the office into the field with Nautilus, the UK-based trade union representing ships officers and engineers. Tommy has been a close friend of our Canadian ITF inspectors. He comes from a militant trade union background and we have always appreciated his progressive values and perspectives.

In this contribution, Tommy talks candidly about the thing that most frustrates, and sometimes even haunts, longtime ITF inspectors: the sense of futility in pressing for meaningful change. Yes, sometimes certain tools come along, or relationships with certain authorities may prove a catalyst for building industrial leverage against rotten shipowners. But overall, nothing ever really changes. The rotten owners carry on exploiting workers.

With that, we will leave it to Brother Molloy to share his thoughts on the forces that impede progress for some of the world’s most isolated and marginalized workers.

Tommy writes:

Happy New Year from Liverpool! In the words of one of this city’s favourite sons, “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear”. Don’t hold your breath, though.

I welcome the invitation and opportunity to send a few thoughts to all of my brothers, sisters, comrades, fellow trade unionists and hopefully others in Canada via this ITF Canada Blog.

Why do we work? A few of you might answer by stating that you actually enjoy your job and wouldn’t know what to do without it, that it gives you a sense of purpose and a place in your community or wider society. Some of you might have jobs that provide no such status, but without you the enterprise or organization you work for could not function, all of the cogs in the machine being essential to its functionality and success.

Most, I would argue, would answer by saying, “In order to pay the bills!” 

We sell our labour for a price that, hopefully, allows us and our families to live in some comfort. Generally speaking, we give roughly a third of our time to the organization or enterprise and in return we earn a wage dependent on how highly they value us or on what we can force from them. We work for a roof over our heads, fuel for light and warmth, food, clothing and footwear to move about comfortably, for transportation, for beds to sleep on and furniture to sit in and eat at, for education to develop our knowledge and understanding, for the means to care for our health, for the means of communication, for holidays so we can rest and recharge our batteries, for the means to travel and appreciate our world.

And if we are lucky, once those needs have been satisfied, we work for the accumulation of things (art and artefacts, property, money and so on), which some would say determine our wealth. How many of these headings are fulfilled depends on a number of things —but least of all on how hard you work. And then there is inherited “wealth”, but that’s another story.

Even in advanced economies, many people – either working or unable to secure work – are struggling to maintain the basics. But many of us manage to pay the bills, maybe have a holiday and enjoy some leisure time. Many of us will have recently bought and received gifts for Christmas (From our docks to their decks: Extending a holiday hand) and will consider this an important ritual to maintain, and will feel somehow of less value if we are unable to do so.

So imagine going to work for months on end and not being paid the promised wage in exchange for your time and efforts. Imagine the impact this would have on your life.

Imagine working away from home and being cut off from your family, knowing that your inability to secure the wages owed you means that even the basics in the list above are undermined, and the quality of life of your loved ones severely jeopardized and ultimately eroded. Imagine the mental anguish this would cause you and them, on top of the physical impact.

Unfortunately, this is a common reality for far too many seafarers. 

Many ship operators simply don’t pay wages until they are forced to. They maintain their ships in poor states of safety. They neglect to provide adequate safety equipment or basic personal protection such as boots, gloves, goggles, etc. They often don’t provide adequate food. They keep their crews on board for far longer than contract lengths, knowing that seafarers have no means by which to get themselves home. Most of the shipping industry knows what the outcome will be if they send their ships to countries like the UK and Canada with these conditions. Yet they do. 

If we, The ITF, get involved, then the crew can consider themselves lucky. With the help of the authorities we can force payment, repatriation, get food on board, deal with safety issues and so on. But once the ship leaves our port and our waters, the cycle starts again. The problems sail with the ship.

It’s hard to believe that this is still happening on a regular basis. I started working for the ITF in 1995, and the problems I am dealing with now are the same problems I was dealing with then. 

Consider this: The last available figures (2016) show that ITF Inspectors worldwide recovered almost $40 million US in owed wages for seafarers. That’s an appalling testimony to the way the people who bring us the goods and commodities we either want or need — across the often treacherous seas — are treated.

The following is an example of this type of behaviour from just one company, on many of its vessels, in 2017. It is in the form of a press release put out by my union towards the end of the year. It could be a fictional story from Dickensian times — but unfortunately, it isn’t.

Concern over ‘cycle of abuse’ in Seaways Maritime International fleet

Concerns are being raised about Greek-based ship managers Seaways Maritime International and their continued mistreatment of seafarers employed on the vessels.

The Marshall Islands registered bulk carrier TOBA was detained for a number of weeks in June 2017 following an inspection by Nautilus International/ITF inspector Tommy Molloy in the Port of Liverpool. He was originally alerted by the solicitors acting for a Chinese creditor who subsequently arrested the vessel for an unpaid debt.

More than US$182,000 in unpaid wages was eventually recovered. Crew had exceeded contract lengths the captain having been onboard for 18 months and the food stores were empty when the vessel arrived. Four weeks later, when Mr Molloy was asked to return to the vessel to confirm all outstanding issues had been resolved, wages remained unpaid, crew had still not been repatriated and the food stores were empty again all of which was confirmed by the flag state (Marshall Islands) inspector who arrived on board on the same day. It was another week before the vessel was released.

‘I was advised at that time that those responsible at the Marshall Islands Registry took these repeated deficiencies seriously and would be keeping a close eye on the vessel and the company,’ Mr Molloy said.

However, the situation did not improve and the company continue to operate in the same way as always.

‘I was contacted on 9 October by crew from China informing me they had not been paid since they left Liverpool and at least three had completed their contracts,’ Mr Molloy reports. ‘They had requested repatriation but it hadn’t materialized. One crew member was set to lose his place at college for exams and 1 year of study if he didn’t get home on time at the end of October. The vessel was headed for Australia and ITF Australia wrote to the company advising them to rectify matters before or on arrival. Port State Control was also alerted. The company then changed the port of destination to Adang Bay, Indonesia – ETA 23-24 October – for a cargo of coal which the crew were told was for Argentina. The consequences of this in terms of the further delay to repatriations were not acceptable.’

Not long after this vessel left Liverpool, ITF was contacted on 8 August 2017 to assist the crew of another of the company’s vessels – OLIVIA R (MHL) 9710555 – who were in a similar situation in New Orleans: wages not paid for three to four months and repatriation almost five months overdue. Marshall Islands register was again informed and acknowledged they were aware of the case. It took ITF and their lawyers in New Orleans to recover the wages and secure repatriation.

‘Meanwhile, on 12 October I dealt with another of the company’s vessels BEN NEVIS (MHL) 9670420, also in the Port of Liverpool,’ Mr Molloy adds. ‘They paid crew three to five months outstanding wages (allotments) on the way in to Liverpool; paid all crew US$250 cash when the vessel berthed and after the same superintendent who dealt with TOBA had boarded (this was the first time the crew had received cash in five months); repatriated two crew members with expired contracts before I arrived and had food stores delivered just after arriving. They had not paid September allotments. I had to advise the company they needed to be paid before the vessel departed. A further US$29,000 was secured. The same lawyers who arrested the TOBA for the Chinese creditor advised the company they were about to arrest this vessel for a client in Brazil if the debt was not paid. It was, but once again the company incurred legal costs rather than pay the debt in the first place.’

ITF also assisted the crew of the vessel BEN RINNES (MHL) 9703825 to recover US$217,000 in owed wages in Japan in April 2017; they were not paid again until the company were pressed by ITF in Brazil in July; the crew contacted ITF in October to say they had not been paid since. Mr Molloy felt the authorities needed to step up to stop this cycle continuing. ‘I contacted the Marshall Islands and brought these matters to their attention. They contacted the company and with regards to the TOBA they insisted that all owed wages be paid in Singapore and repatriation arranged from there for those who wished it. I received confirmation from the crew on 29 October that although the vessel did not berth at Singapore the three with expired contracts were disembarked via a launch and were paid and repatriated. They advised that no-one else had received wages.

‘At the same time, I was contacted by the daughter of another crew member on board telling me that her father had not been paid since July and that she was aware that three departing crew members had been paid. She had been to the bank that day to check whether there had been a transfer. I asked her to check again the following day, 30 October. She replied on 1 November to say the bank had still received no money. On 2 November, another crew member contacted me to say wages had still not been received.

‘An inspector representing Marshall Islands boarded the vessel at Munda, India on 9 November and the vessel was detained again. Documents on board appear to show that crew were paid on 6 and 7 October. This is contrary to the information we were getting from crew and families back home. Nonetheless, it seems that for whatever reason all of the crew signed a document to say they had been paid and the vessel was released and allowed to continue on its way. Until the next time. We finally received confirmation from crew and families on 12 November that wages for August and September had been paid.

‘Clearly, this company only do what they are required to do under MLC 2006 and flag state stipulations when they are forced to.’

Mr Molloy’s view is that enough is enough.

‘It now transpires that the OLIVIA R has arrived in Australia and because no wages have been paid since the vessel was detained in New Orleans, it has been detained again by flag and port state. There seems to be a general acceptance that they don’t have to pay their crews monthly as required or repatriate them on time. As long as the vessels can be detained, owed wages and repatriation secured, the vessels can be released to continue on their way in the certain knowledge that the cycle will continue and they will be detained again at some stage in the future. Personally, I don’t think that’s good enough.’

And so it goes.

It has to remain a hope that this type of mistreatment can be eradicated. But that will only happen when authorities such as flag of convenience (FOC) ship registers — flag states that offer their registers to operators/owners with no link to that state whatsoever —decide to get robust with the enforcement of minimum standards. At the moment, it seems as if that amounts to rectifying problems in the short term but taking no action which would prevent the abusers from continuing with the cycle. A good start would be for the flag state to throw an errant company off their shipping register. And for the wider community to become aware of and place a higher value on the role that seafarers play in getting us the goods we want, the stuff we go to work for.

Optimistic, I know. But so was John Lennon.

The captain on one of Molloy’s ships had been aboard an inhuman 18 months — well past his contracted agreement. This was all the food left in the cold storage locker.

 

Molloy found — not for the first time — that food supplies were in an appalling state.

Brother Molloy always boards with optimism — but admits the battle seems endless.

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.

 

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.

Your Saturday Listen: Freightened, the Real Price of Shipping

FREIGHTENED_documentary_polarstarfilms

The drumbeat of globalization is deafening: stores are awash in Christmas goods, talk of trade deals fills the headlines, debates over the role of foreign investors and workers and production engage our minds.

In the maritime world, we know that at the heart of globalization are the ships that move 90 per cent of the world’s cargo —  and the seafarers who form the world’s most marginalized and isolated workforce.

This week, we’re offering you a Saturday morning watch and listen: Freightened, an engaging film that looks at how modern global trade has changed the world. It contemplates the winners, the losers and those who have been left behind. And it asks what role that our communities, as consumers, play in that dance.

(Late note: We have discovered this film is only available for viewing in BC, Canada, via this link, due to rights arrangements. Everyone else can visit the website for the movie for info on when it will be streamed later this year by the film’s producers. You can also buy a copy there, if that interests you.)

We think there’s a final critical point to keep in mind as you watch: we’re all part of this trade system, most of us sit on the winning side, and we all bear responsibility to the men and women who move the ships that make it possible.

Need another reason to watch? The film, produced by Polar Star Films, features an appearance by Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the ITF.

You can watch it here until Nov. 24.

A course on funny flags and flipping ships

Photo courtesy futurelearn.com

You say the Paradise Papers disclosures have got you thirsting for more on how and why companies with stacks of money protect that money from being taxed?

We’ve got just the thing for you: a short primer on how and why shipowners choose, finance and register the ships the way they do — and why they register them under flags of convenience.

Anyone seeking to represent maritime workers — or support their struggles — is well served by an understanding of how shipping works. It gives us the ability to leverage workers’ interests and the health and safety of the communities they work in. To that end, we’re passing along a link to a short, no-cost course offered through the open university site called FutureLearn.

The course is called Maritime Law: An Introduction to Shipping Transactions. It caught our eye because it’s a simple, straightforward presentation on how shipowners choose ships, how they find the money to buy them and how they pick a flag to register them with.

Here’s their pitch, in their own words:

“This free online course will look below the water line at the unseen legal and transactional structures behind the shipping industry.

“We will examine the process of acquiring and financing of new vessels and secondary market tonnage: from the various perspectives of a buyer, a seller, a ship-builder and a bank. We will explore the concept of flags of convenience and modern practice of ship registration.

“You will develop an understanding of how the merchant fleets of the world are bought, sold and securitized – and how international conventions regulate ships wherever they are registered.”

The course has been put together by the UK Chamber of Shipping, the Law Society of Scotland, and the shipping wing of the UK law firm Addleshaw Goddard — in other words, the kingpins of the British shipping industry — and so it’s also an interesting look at how they explain themselves to people entering the maritime field. It won’t surprise you that we might offer a considerably different viewpoint on maritime labour, on the motives behind the use of foreign registries and on flags of convenience, but we’ll let it go at that.

Mostly, we think it’s a simple way to get a basic, plain-English understanding of how ships are bought and sold and registered, some basics of ship financing (worth knowing, given the massive oversupply of tonnage and its effect on labour), and how the industry justifies its reliance on foreign registries and regulatory regimes. The articles are short, the videos highly watchable.

The course is easy to access. Click here; all you need to register is your name and an email address. It’s free if you just want to study the materials. There’s a small fee if you want to get a credit for your resume. Access is open now and continues until Dec. 10. It’s laid out over four weeks for convenience, but you can get through the videos and short articles in a few hours total, depending on what interests you. Or you can skip around to the bits that interest you.

* FutureLearn is one a large number of university networks that offer mass open, online courses. The ITFCanada blog is in no way connected with it.

Labour Day: the celebration and the struggle continue onshore — and off

Ever wonder what respect looks like? Today, on Labour Day, it looked like this.

Along English Bay in Vancouver, those workers who managed to get the holiday off were soaking in a last bit of summer sun. Kids were playing, dogs were hanging out in the shade, sailboats were cruising. We marked our respect for workers with a day celebrating them, and by giving as many as possible some time free of the daily grind. It’s not a perfect world here yet, but as we fight on, we also stop once a year to salute the working people who have built, and continue to build, our country and our communities.

And then there’s that ship in the background. The Gertrude Oldendorff.

It’s also what respect looks like — when workers get none.

There’s an Indonesian seafarer on board that bulk carrier. He’s been aboard for months. He’s been available seven days a week and done whatever he was asked to do.

When he came aboard, the ship was covered by an ITF collective agreement through the German union Verdi. In July, the owners — Oldendorff Carriers — decided to terminate the collective agreement. Termination meant  the company was free to roll back things like wages, sick pay and compensation for serious illness or injury. It also meant the seafarers onboard no longer have a legal representative.

During the course of his contract, the Indonesian seafarer developed eye trouble. When the ship hit the port of Qinhuangdao in China, he was allowed to see a doctor. He was diagnosed with optic neuritis and told that he should be repatriated for treatment, and failing that, flown home from the next port. Oldendorff chose to not repatriate him from China. They left him aboard for the slow crossing from China to Canada. Just outside Canadian territorial waters, the engines were stopped and the ship was allowed to drift for nearly three days — presumably to save the anchorage fees it would have to pay if it arrived in Canada ahead of its scheduled berthing.

Someone sitting at a desk in Germany — a country where accommodation of workers’ rights is, in general, progressive and strictly adhered to — decided this worker’s eye could wait.

Peter Lahay, the ITF’s Canadian coordinator, heard from the worker by email, and got in contact with the shipowners. Lahay pleaded with them to bring the vessel in and get the man medical attention. The company acknowledged they had sick seafarer aboard but said only that they would eventually send him home. That wasn’t good enough. Lahay told them that because the collective agreement had been terminated and he had no formal agreement relationship with the company, he would have to involve Transport Canada. It wasn’t a tough decision for Lahay. In private, other crew had noted the callous treatment they had received at the hands of the company.

When the vessel finally arrived in English Bay, it was 2 p.m. on Friday of the Labour Day weekend here. Transport Canada marine safety inspectors — who enforce the Maritime Labour Convention — hopped a launch to the ship and investigated. We thank them and we offer them our respect. They gave up their own holiday to stand up for a fellow maritime worker. They provided the basic consideration that we in Canada have come to expect of each other.

As of Monday afternoon, the worker was still aboard. Had the ship come in a week earlier, the company could have dropped anchor, sent a launch to get their worker ashore and had him in front a doctor at the mariners’ clinic the same day. At this point, a full month after the initial diagnosis, we can only hope that the seafarer regains full use of his eye and suffers no permanent damage.

Should he lose sight in one eye, or even suffer significantly impaired vision, his career at sea is over. And earning a living at home in Indonesia will be precarious at best.

His career might be over anyway. Even should he recover, he faces blacklisting by the company for contacting the ITF and for insisting on treatment that might save his sight.

Today, we salute maritime workers everywhere. We celebrate the respect that we have won to date, often at huge personal cost. We renew our resolve to protect it. And we join hands with workers everywhere in vowing to fight on for fair wages, safe working conditions and peaceful lives for all of us.

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.

RALLY THURSDAY FEBRUARY 23

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. www.unifor.org

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

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

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

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.

Vince

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,

Karl

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.

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