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Statement on Tuesday Demonstration

May 13, 2020

FFAW-Unifor acknowledges the intense frustrations felt by fish harvesters around the province this season, including those who organized a demonstration outside FFAW-Unifor’s office in St. John’s on Tuesday.

The primary concern we’ve heard from harvesters is surrounding the poor price of crab for 2020. It is for this reason FFAW President Keith Sullivan and Secretary Treasurer David Decker were unavailable to speak to members at yesterday’s demonstration. On Monday evening, FFAW-Unifor submitted a price reconsideration for snow crab. This request was accepted by the panel and a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday morning. Sullivan and Decker, along with the FFAW Crab Negotiating Committee, were preparing the submission for Panel. Taking time away from the submission would have jeopardized harvesters’ chances at the Panel hearing.

There is an estimated 35-40 million dollars at stake in this decision. While I would have liked to be there yesterday to speak to harvesters, as I did on Saturday, this panel submission is extremely important to ensure we have the best chance possible for increasing the price for the 2020 crab fishery. We only have one opportunity for a reconsideration, every effort had to go into preparing a strong submission,” says Keith Sullivan, FFAW-Unifor President.

At the same time, preparations are underway for cod negotiations with the hearing before the Price Setting Panel scheduled for this Thursday.

In addition to prices, ASP has unilaterally imposed trip limits on harvesters. These actions blatantly contradict the master collective agreement and any trip limits imposed are not within the license conditions or collective agreement. Since Monday, the FFAW Crab Committee was successful in getting trip limits doubled for inshore licenses while they continue to work to address the issues for other fleets and weekly restrictions. To be clear, the work has not stopped and we continue to work to address the other issues to ensure fair and economical trip limits.

While frustrations with the challenges in the fishery this year are understandable, blame for the uncertainty and discontent this season must be placed with the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) who have refused to negotiate with fish harvesters on a fair price or scheduling of the fishery. ASP has taken every available opportunity to undermine the collective bargaining process this year. These companies have taken advantage of the worldwide pandemic to manipulate and control inshore harvesters while reaping the profits.

These actions by ASP, which have been condoned by the provincial government, combined with inaction from the federal government on direct compensation and support for fish harvesters have resulted in the mounting tensions.

There are some individuals who have chosen to exploit the uncertainty and market implications surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic to try to break our Union. These individuals are spreading false rumours and driving divisions among harvesters, much to the satisfaction of processing companies who benefit from such conflicts. As we navigate our most challenging year since the cod moratorium, now is not the time to pit harvester against harvester. Now is the time to work together.

“There were those who were there Saturday and yesterday with the sole purpose of attacking the Union. But many of the harvesters at the demonstrations were there to protest the trip limits imposed by ASP. We need to work together to take on ASP. The individuals who are trying to tear us apart are only helping the companies,” says Brian Careen, Inshore Council member from St. Brides.

With a diverse membership of nearly 10,000 fish harvesters from various fleets based in hundreds of communities around the province, it is always a challenge to find unanimous agreement on issues in the fishery. Since this pandemic began, FFAW-Unifor has relied on the leadership and guidance of dozens and dozens of fish harvesters who make up the volunteer, elected leadership of the organization. Through consultations with these groups, FFAW-Unifor has worked to represent the best interests of fish harvesters despite the roadblocks and resistance of fish processing companies, who have worked every step of the way to sow division within the industry. These democratic processes might not satisfy every fish harvester, but it is the best mechanism to ensure fairness within our union.

FFAW-Unifor will continue to work closely with all of our members to fight back against ASP’s attempts to control the fishery and we will continue our call for urgently needed federal support for fish harvesters. As always, we encourage members to reach out to the Union via their Staff Representative, Inshore Council member or Committee members