On November 9th, a group of strong, focused and proud women got the news they had been waiting for since 2015 when their group of janitorial workers were first certified as a bargaining agent: they finally had a collective agreement.
I can only imagine the sense of joy, vindication, and resolve that this news must have elicited. No more day-to-day uncertainty and below market wages. Now they would receive fair pay for honest, hard work. And to top it off, the 21 workers in the unit would get to share a $225,000.00 signing bonus.
Five years is a long time, particularly in collective bargaining. And during that time, your Union never once considered abandoning these workers. Instead, we put a tremendous amount of resources into this battle, combating this most arrogant and disrespectful employer tactics at every point. The rights of the workers would be respected and honoured.
We could do no less. Workers’ rights are set back if an employer can frustrate the collective bargaining system; or if they are allowed to maintain unsafe work environments; or if they are not held to task for not paying harvesters for everything they’ve landed. This is our obligation to our members, and we ensure we have the resources and capacity to do so.
In October, the total landed value of the inshore fishery eclipsed $500,000,000 for 2019. This year will likely be the most valuable season ever for inshore harvesters in our province. This is a result of constant pressure to ensure fair access to resources, focus on premium quality and negotiate strong collective agreements. This speaks to our collective work and achievement at the wharf, in the fleet committees, and in the negotiating committees.
It is also telling how broadly this collective wealth is shared. In 2015, $411 million of the total landed value came from just crab and shrimp. This year, to reach that same $411 million point one needs to add together the total value of crab, shrimp and lobster, which together are fished by nearly the entire inshore membership of the Union. This is progress. This year, the fishery generated real wealth across the vast majority of our coastline. This, too, is progress.
On top of what is shaping up to be the most valuable season ever for inshore harvesters, we have seen a change in the federal Fisheries Act that gives us the opportunity to secure an owner operator policy that ensures the value of the fish off our coasts stays with inshore fish harvesters and in our communities. The challenge for 2020 is making sure the regulations have teeth and politicians or bureaucrats in Ottawa don’t attempt to derail our progress, which is vital to the future of coastal Newfoundland and Labrador.
Another key to our success in years to come will be harvester input in fisheries science and management. Those who are trying to divide workers say that fisheries science and management should be done only by DFO. People I talk to want more of their input considered in science and management and will not give up their right to shape policy. It is your Union’s position that we should be doing what we can to shape the results of science to encompass harvesters’ perspectives. That is what we are doing on the crab Precautionary Approach, which is a united effort of thousands of crab harvesters to shape the rules upon which their fishery will be based. If your Union was not front and center with a dedicated team, including fisheries scientist, and countless hours of work from committee members, we could end up with an unmanageable approach accounting for significant losses in this extremely valuable fishery.
This year, Workplace NL finally made the step to develop a safety council for manufacturing workers and it will have a special focus on fish processing. This is the result of years of research, meetings, and lobbying by FFAW members. The challenge for 2020 will be to make sure this council is established and gets to work developing strategies to make our workplaces safer.
In 2019, the passion and dedication of our members was evident in every aspect of the work our union has done, whether it was a small group of determined workers in Long Harbour fighting for their first contract or hundreds of people who filled halls and packed downtown St. John’s this spring to fight for fair management of our fisheries.
In 2020, we will continue to build, unite, progress and deliver results for our members despite the attempts of others to divide, mislead and slow progress. This November marked five years since I was given the privilege of leading your Union. It remains the greatest honour and responsibility of my life. In the last five years I’ve met thousands of members in hundreds of communities and at hundreds of different venues. It may be cliché, but we often talk about working together to make things better. I think we have. In the mess of our province’s economy, the fishery sustains thousands with better wages and earnings rarely replicated in the history of our province.
But our work is not done. In 2020 and for years to come, your Union will be there, working for you and with you, to improve the lives of FFAW members living in every corner of the province.
Have a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday!