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FFAW Leaders Meet with Premier Following Last Week's Rally

March 27, 2019

Following a rally of over 700 fish harvesters, plant workers and concerned citizens in St. John’s last week, FFAW-Unifor leadership met with Premier Dwight Ball to discuss mounting concerns in the fishing industry and challenges facing FFAW-Unifor members.

The meeting lasted over two hours and provided your Union with the opportunity to have important discussions with Premier Ball.

Opportunities and Challenges in the Fishery

The value of our fisheries to our province’s economy was prevalent throughout the conversation.  It is important we work together to ensure we have fair access to our resources. This includes having fair access to abundant resources while harvesting sustainably.

Recent proposals from DFO suggesting cuts when the fishery and scientific indicators were positive has been extremely concerning to fish harvesters and plant workers in our province.  Several areas of the province including 2J, 3K, Bonavista Bay, Trinity Bay had serious concerns with the approach on their crab and considerable time was spent on the seriousness of the issue.

Furthermore, species like mackerel, halibut and cod are abundant but are not given a fair chance to be harvested.  Abundant mackerel on the northeast coast must be accounted for while northern cod is harvested at the lowest rate in our history.  The stock has seen significant growth while sustainable development of the fishery including markets must happen.

The biggest unmitigated threat to species like cod, capelin and snow crab is seals.  Seal populations are one of the largest contributing factors to natural mortality of the rebuilding northern cod stocks.

Managed properly, coastal communities have the opportunity to benefit further from the seal harvest while encouraging a more balanced ecosystem. More can be done to encourage this potentially vibrant economic industry for our coastal communities, and our government has the ability to make this happen.

Transparency in the Fishery

The fishery, a public resource, has incredible value to our province.  Those harvesting the resource have widely known limits on harvest, etc.   Processing companies benefit from this resource and must collectively be held to higher public reporting standards while ensuring protection of sensitive information of an individual company.

Only by operating in an environment where information is shared can the industry evolve and maximize its potential value for all.  Other jurisdictions have a greater transparency requirement, promoting cooperation and focussing on increasing the value of the resource as opposed to fighting over a smaller piece of the pie.  For example, information on yield on common product types are not shared (crab section weight versus the whole crab ratio).  This is very basic information that would inform and improve harvesting operations and cultivate an environment for growing the value.

Good Jobs

FFAW-Unifor is focussed on ensuring our members have good jobs and are protected in their right to collective bargaining. Currently, workers in collective agreements working for contractors at industrial sites have no protection from contract flipping at their workplace.

These employees and their contractor employers are forced to operate under the pressure of flimsy contract law that allows international companies to give 35 days’ notice of their intent to re-tender the contract with no legal consideration for the timelines of binding collective agreements. And it’s always about paying lower wages for the same work. It destroys the fundamental rights of workers to have protection against this through collective bargaining.

Our province is in need of strong regulations to protect workers. Our Union made it clear to Premier Ball that the provincial government must stand up for workers and fight for legislation that will protect against contract flipping.

Fish Processing and Aquaculture Jobs

Your Union discussed the aquaculture industry, its potential value to communities, and the need to ensure accountability of companies.

Despite progress made in collective bargaining, aquaculture production workers in Harbour Breton and St. Albans continue to struggle with precarious employment conditions. The workers have suffered as the industry is in a constant state of transition with Companies taking over the operations and shipping salmon out of province for valued added processing. Meetings with the Province and our Union, as well as political efforts by workers, should result in more work content in 2019 and beyond. Importantly, our efforts have resulted in the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources committing to a more rigorous audit of all provincial aquaculture operations, with the objective of ensuring better, value added work content for our members. We intend to hold the government to their commitment.

Oil, Gas and Seismic

Without a doubt, the inshore fishing industry is increasingly affected by oil and gas operations off the coast of our province. Harvesting activities are adversely affected through loss of access to fishing grounds, an increase in steaming times, gear damage, navigational challenges and safety concerns with increased vessel traffic, iceberg deflection operations, concerns regarding seismic activity on fish species and fishing grounds, and an elevated environmental risk (i.e. oil spills).

The potential impacts of seismic activity on valuable fish resources and fishing activities continue to be very concerning. For decades, FFAW has spoken out against potential impacts seismic activity has on both the marine environment and on fishing activities. While the Union has successfully lobbied for increased research on the effects seismic has had on species such as snow crab and northern shrimp, precautions must be taken to prevent damage to the environment and interference with harvesting activities.

Premier Ball’s government has committed to doubling oil and gas extraction in the next decade, further encroaching on valuable fishing grounds and heightening environmental concerns. The fishery in our province is valued at over a billion dollars, and at our meeting with Premier Ball, your Union stressed the importance of respecting fish harvesters, their enterprises and the many effects the industry has on our fishery. Fish harvesters are most affected by oil and gas development and should receive distinct consideration from our governments, including policy and regulations to protect the inshore fishery.

In the coming weeks, the Union and committee representatives will continue to mobilize and pressure DFO and the federal government to take decisive action that supports the long-term economic sustainability of the inshore fishery and the workers and their families who rely on it.