Canadian seafaring unions recently finalized an agreement with the Canadian government that secured cabotage rights for Canadian mariners aboard vessels flying any flag traversing that nation’s domestic waterways.
Seafarers International Union of Canada President Jim Given said on Sept. 11, “Our victory is official!”
Given, who serves as the Eastern Area Executive Board Member for the AFL-CIO’s Maritime Trades Department (MTD), has spearheaded this fight to enforce and strengthen Canada’s cabotage laws for years. He has reported on this campaign several times at MTD Executive Board meetings. (SIU President Michael Sacco also is president of the MTD.)
Under the provisions agreed upon, the Canadian government will not issue any temporary foreign worker permits to mariners from outside nations for more than 30 days without the written consent of the maritime unions of Canada, which will be coordinated through the SIU of Canada.
“What this means,” noted Given, “is Canadian mariners will get first work on any vessel running cabotage regardless of the vessel’s flag. This is an important win, and the first of its kind for this program.”
In the event that no Canadian mariners are available for such a cabotage run, Given pointed out that the foreign mariners must be granted new employment contracts which clearly show the Canadian wage rates and working conditions they are under while engaged in Canadian waters. Additionally, such conditions must meet the standards set by the laws of Canada.
In 2015, the SIU of Canada filed 42 lawsuits against the Canadian government for violating the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The union found evidence that Canadian seafarers were not offered the jobs and many foreign mariners were paid as little as $2.41 an hour while working in Canadian waters. A year later, the union filed 13 more lawsuits with similar allegations.
In July 2016, the Canadian government admitted it improperly issued work permits to the foreign crew aboard a Marshall Islands tanker sailing in Canadian waters. The Canadian Federal Court granted the union’s judicial review application and, in February 2017, the SIU of Canada and the national government settled the remaining lawsuits.
As part of the settlement, the union worked with branches of the government to establish a new Temporary Foreign Worker Program policy to address the issues of concern to Canada’s maritime labor community.
“This is a significant step to ensure that Canadian vessel charterers will no longer be able to use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to exploit foreign labor as a means to undercut and undermine the Canadian maritime industry and Canadian seafarers,” added Given.
The MTD is a constitutionally mandated department of the AFLCIO. It features 23 affiliate unions (representing around five million members) and a network of 21 port maritime councils.