May 4, 2020
FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan is calling on the federal government to take immediate action to support the nearly ten thousand harvesters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador are in desperate need of federal support as lobster, crab and other fisheries open around the province in the midst of severe market impacts and rock bottom prices.
Friday’s unjustified decision from the Price Setting Panel chose the ASP price of $2.90 per pound for snow crab, a measly price that is leaving enterprise owners and crew members wondering if they will be able to cover expenses and support their families in the coming months and once the 2020 fishing season ends. Even with the minimum price and Urner Barry formula protected for lobster, that fishery as well as others like shrimp will also require government support.
“Enterprise owners are seriously concerned about whether they will manage to get through the season without bankrupting, let alone being able to support their families and the families of their crew members,” explains FFAW-Unifor Keith Sullivan. “Friday’s decision by the Price Setting Panel slashed last year’s crab price nearly in half and to-date harvesters have been left out of support from the federal government while processing companies receive millions in funding and wage subsidies, and will now pay half the price to harvesters,” he adds.
Once harvesters start fishing, they will no longer be eligible for the CERB unless their income is less than $1000 per month. Harvesters have not been eligible for any other recently announced federal programs to support businesses and other natural resource sectors. As a result of this, FFAW-Unifor submitted an Economic Support Proposal on April 24 yet to date there has been no support provided for harvesters while millions in funding and wage subsidies are being handed to processing companies.
“Some harvesters are considering whether fishing this year will just drive them even further into the hole. Many enterprise owners have big loans and at these prices they may not be able to make those payments while covering their other expenses this year. On top of that they are worried about their crew members and aren’t sure if they’ll be able hire all of them back this season. It’s an incredible amount of stress and worry that could be somewhat alleviated if our federal government would step in and help like they’ve done for the processing companies and in other industries,” says harvester Dennis Chaulk of Charlottetown (3L).
“It’s imperative that action be taken immediately by the federal government to protect the inshore fishery and the coastal communities that rely on it,” warns Sullivan.
Key support measures requested in the proposal include extended EI benefits, waive and/or reimburse all fees for 2020 (i.e. licensing fees, vessel registration fees, IQ fees, etc.), a wage subsidy program, and extended interest-free loan deferral programs.
“Our Union is continuing to meet with federal representatives but we are encouraging all of our members and their friends and family to contact their MPs to explain why this help is so desperately needed. The economic effects of the pandemic means that many enterprises will go out of business this year without help. Harvesters need to know they will be able to take care of their families. Action must be taken now,” Sullivan concludes.
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