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Your Saturday Listen: Freightened, the Real Price of Shipping


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

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.


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,


Free trade with China: here’s the cost


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.


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, 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: For details of how cabotage laws protect skills see



Maritime Workers Day of Action January 12


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU can help save our coast and our jobs!

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

For more information in BC, please contact ILWU Canada.

ILWU-Canada: 604-254-8141 or

In Eastern Canada, please contact Charles-Etienne Aubry at 514-931-8285 or

You can also express your opposition to:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: or Justin Trudeau /House of Commons/ Ottawa, Ontario KlA OA6

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau: or Marc Garneau/ House of Commons I Ottawa, Ontario KlA OA6

BC Liberal Caucus leader Hedy Fry: or Hedy Fry I House of Commons I Ottawa, Ontario KlA OA6

Letters mailed to members of parliament do not require stamps.

Your Saturday Listen: There really is power in a movement

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

You can leave your comments below. Solidarity, right?


Solidarity: It moved a mighty mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo courtesy of

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

But sometimes real life screams louder than we ever could.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Saturday Listen: Talk – Action = 0


Shwe Tun Aung

We’re back from the ITF MRT in Montreal fully energized, having sharpened our campaigning skills and our commitment to solidarity in action. Our biggest lesson? To quote Canadian punk legend Joe Keithley of DOA, talk minus action equals zero.

During the week in Montreal, labour activists from around the world were put to work in lively participatory sessions meant to “agitate, educate and organize”. Sometimes the “agitation” is as simple as one heartfelt story that says everything about how the effort to support transport workers can make a real difference.

We’ve got one of those stories for you this week.

In Montreal, we invited The Docker Podcast team to plug in to a live session on how we can harness our own unique skills to further the many worthwhile campaigns underway, identify new struggles and take effective action. And then we had them record the dark and dramatic words of Brother Shwe Tun Aung, who we have written about before. The podcast captures Shwe’s own story of his grim life as a Burmese seafarer — and his lonely struggle as a man without a country, ultimately saved by perseverance and solidarity.

Shwe repeated his story four times to sessions that day. “Compelling” doesn’t begin to describe his words. In some sessions, activists rose and gave him a standing ovation; in other sessions, they were moved to tears.

ITF Canada Coordinator Peter Lahay, who has known Shwe for 20 years and was a participant in some of the events Shwe described, remarked: “I’ve known Shwe for a long time. Together, along with others, we kept the flame flickering for Burmese seafarers’ rights for many years. But even I have not heard all the gruesome details of what Shwe has lived through. I don’t know anyone who would not be shaken by his story.”

Our solidarity with Shwe and IFOMS, the new Burmese seafarers union, remains strong. This week, Vince Giannopoulos, the ITF’s inspector for the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region, and Transport Canada stopped and detained the Marshall Island-flagged Merlin in Sept-Isles for non-payment of overtime wages to the Burmese crew. Nearly $12,000 US was recovered and returned to the lower ranked crew. It’s always a special moment when we assist Burmese seafarers. Just two short years ago, it was illegal for them to accept the assistance of international trade unions when they’d been robbed of wages. Shwe’s story is the story of how all that changed.

So settle in for the next 40 minutes for the details of his struggle, told in his own voice. You mind is about to be blown.

You can find the podcast here.



Your Saturday Listen: Wrestling back the gains of our grandparents

miners_strike_1984Like a lot of maritime trade unionists, we’re packing our bags and heading for the ITF Maritime Roundtable in Montreal. This week’s Saturday Listen invites you to think about one of the big problems we’ll be wrestling with.

Start here: In North America, the working class squeezed a first round of big gains from employers and governments after the great depression, between the two world wars, in what was known loosely as the New Deal (1933-34).

Then consider this: Beginning in 1945, after the end of the Second World War, workers began to gain more broadly. Pay and conditions in Europe and North America continued an upward trajectory throughtout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. And then bosses, governments and the establishment mounted a massive push back. Throughout the developed world, workers and their trade unions were challenged — and sometimes smashed. Think about the Reagan/Thatcher years, when tens of thousands of air-traffic controllers were sacked in the US, while in Britain, Thatcher took on miners, pressmen, seafarers and dockers.

Our point is not to catalogue the incredible assault on workers’ conditions over the past 30 years, but to set the scene for this episode of The Docker Podcast. In it, the Podcast team speak with Zach Pattin from ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma and Kyle McGinn from the MUA. The were gathered in Tacoma to mark the struggles of earlier generations and to analyse where workers stand now — and what they’ll need to do to wrestle back some of the conditions won by their grandparents and lost during their parents’ working lives.

It’s the same analysis we’re doing in Montreal this week as we meet to renew ties of solidarity and to plan the critical campaigns that are built on it. We’ll let you know how it goes. Meantime, enjoy the podcast. Share it, and share the conversation.

And don’t forget, it’s not too late to get in on our contest!