This article was originally printed in the Winter 2018/19 edition of the Union Forum magazine
Message from the Secretary-Treasurer
Our Union has been a driving force for progressive change in the Newfoundland and Labrador since 1971. It is an effort that is fueled by, and possible because, of you – our members.
The fishery, like the entire economic structure of Newfoundland and Labrador, is going through a transition. Change can be difficult and stressful, but it also presents opportunities and the chance to shape the future. Change cannot be ignored, and your Union has to prepare for it, and take the initiative on it, in the best possible way.
On November 5th and 6th, FFAW held its triennial constitutional convention in Gander, where nearly 200 of your fellow members participated in debate and discussion on the future of the Union and reviewed the last three years and prepared for the next three.
The convention had many new faces in attendance, accepting the opportunity to take part in the important duties of your union. It was particularly refreshing to see the number of women and younger members of the organization. We are as diverse an organization as ever before, and we expect that to continue into the future.
The importance of fostering and empowering youth was demonstrated by the passing of an amendment to the FFAW constitution to add two young harvester representatives to the inshore council. The inshore fishery is the midst of a crucial generational shift and the voices of our next generation need a voice at the table and an opportunity to be heard. In time, we hope that more young people, and not just the young harvester representatives, take on a leadership role and serve on the inshore council.
Seeing the interest and confidence of the first-time delegates, mingled with the perspectives of long-time members, provides a sense of comfort about the future of our union. We will make this transition work. It will not be easy and it will involve self-reflection, but it will work and we will be better for it.
As I review the resolutions that we passed at the convention, they are forward-looking to guide us for the next decades. We passed resolutions on protecting the owner-operator policy and about access to new fishing opportunities, as these are the foundation upon which our fishery and our communities are based and are successful.
We voted for resolutions on the future of a healthy fish processing sector; a sector that for too long has been sustained with little care for safety and our workers have paid the price. Shame on processing companies that hire healthy people and within ten years they have the lung capacity of someone with emphysema.
Our convention took on issues of employers not living up to their promises to provide work, even after accepting millions of dollars in public money. For too long we have assumed the sanctity of a social contract whereby an employer will do the right thing because that employer said so. There needs to be a system of accountability to give hope to future workers that the status-quo in companies breaking their promises will not be sustained.
The delegates at the convention also considered the fair treatment of harvesters in the establishment of marine protected areas. As I write this, 250,000 litres of oil are floating along the top of the Atlantic, the result of an accident that the provincial government and oil companies were not prepared for. If there was any question about what sector – fishing or oil and gas – is more dangerous to the marine environment, it should now be answered.
It’s clear that we have much to look forward to in 2019 and a lot of hard work ahead of us.
Have a safe and happy Christmas. It is an honour working on your behalf.