Thousands fewer inshore harvesters than FFAW-Unifor claimed; FISH-NL receives union support from across Canada

Thousands fewer inshore harvesters than FFAW-Unifor
claimed; FISH-NL receives union support from across Canada


The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) is pleased with the Labour Relations Board’s release of what officials describe as an “accurate and reliable” list of the province’s inshore harvesters.

“It’s been almost 10 months since FISH-NL submitted our application for certification so a list of inshore harvesters from the board is a huge and welcome step forward,” says Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL.

Obtained from various “sources,” the labour board’s list includes the names of 6,371 inshore harvesters — almost 4,000 fewer than the 10,200 active, dues-paying members that the FFAW-Unifor has claimed to represent.

Submitted to the Labour Relations Board on Dec. 30th, 2016, FISH-NL’s application for certification included membership cards signed by 2,372 inshore harvesters, collected over a two-month certification drive from more than 300 communities around Newfoundland and Labrador.

Based on the labour board’s number of harvesters, FISH-NL’s support is close to the 40 per cent mark required to trigger a vote for harvesters to decide which union will represent them.

“While FISH-NL has only had a cursory look at the board’s list, we know that some fishermen are included who have passed away, others no longer fish, and still more work full-time in other industries,” said Cleary.

The definition of inshore harvester must also be decided on. The Association of Seafood Producers, which represents fish processing companies,  has expressed concern over whether people who are assigned a share of the catch proceeds (which would entitle them to Employment Insurance benefits) — while not actually setting foot on a fishing boat — should be defined as an a harvester for purposes of the vote.

The list released by the Labour Relations Board includes names only — with no communities or addresses. FISH-NL must now begin the pain-staking process of verifying the list and comparing it with its own membership.

“With so many names FISH-NL has its work cut out to review each one and confirm who legitimately belongs on the list,” said Cleary.

While support for FISH-NL continues to grow within the province, independent unions in other provinces are publicly standing behind the new union, including:

• The Canadian Maintenance and Allied Workers Canada (CMAW), the largest union representing construction workers in British Columbia. The CMAW was officially formed in 2007 following an 11-year battle with their American-based parent union — the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

• The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers (CUSW), a construction industry trade union representing approximately 3,000 electricians and related trades in the energy/nuclear sector throughout Ontario. The CUSW  was founded in February 1999 as a breakaway local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

• The Public and Private Workers of Canada (PPWC), representing 3,000 workers in B.C. in a variety of industries from hospitals to airports, credit unions to pulp workers. The PPWC’s constitution dictates that the union is controlled by rank-and-file workers.

Cleary, along with Richard Gillett, Vice-President of FISH-NL, travelled to Vancouver, British Columbia this past weekend at the invitation (and expense) of the CMAW, which held a labour school and meeting of labour leaders.

“CMAW knows what it is like to have an intolerable labour situation — with a union that becomes completely out of touch with the grassroots members — and then forces those to have no choice but to create their own organization,” said  CMAW President Jan Noster.

“FISH-NL’s struggle is incredibly similar to ours in that other unions — provincially and across Canada — turned their backs on us,” he added. “We support FISH-NL and the right of the inshore harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador to decide their own fate. They themselves know what’s best for them.”

Gary Fiege, PPWC Vice-President, said his union is proud to support members of FISH-NL “in their fight for liberation.”

“The rank and file membership,” he said, “should have the right to be represented by a union of their own choosing.”

Other independent unions across Canada have contacted FISH-NL recently to offer their support.

Cleary stressed that what’s needed more than anything else is the continued support of inshore harvesters.

“Harvesters have dug deep to support FISH-NL, but we need them to dig even deeper. Nothing about this struggle has been easy, and it’s far from over.”

Ryan Cleary