Fishing standoff heats up

Terry Roberts
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Tension mounts between OCI, union as workers blockade vessel

Fishermen stand at the dock in Bay Roberts on Monday. More than 50 unionized crew members from the fishing trawler Newfoundland Lynx have been locked out by Ocean Choice International. — Photo by Terry Roberts/The Compass

Tension between the fisheries union and Ocean Choice International (OCI) has reached new heights as a standoff unfolds on the dock in Bay Roberts and an escalating war of words is waged by officials on both sides.

Some 30 unionized crew members — most of whom are from the Burin Peninsula — of the fishing trawler Newfoundland Lynx initiated a blockade of the vessel Sunday after the company locked out the workers and attempted to bring in a replacement crew.

The replacement workers were being transported to Bay Roberts aboard taxis Sunday, but they turned around after being stopped by the RCMP and notified of the blockade.

The locked-out workers are vowing to prevent “scab labourers” from boarding the trawler, and say they’ll continue their blockade for as long as it takes.


Union defying injunction: company

The company, meanwhile, says the union is defying an ongoing court injunction by blockading the vessel, and is asking authorities to enforce the injunction so it can carry on its business.

It’s the latest flare-up in an industry dominated in recent months by controversy and uncertainty in places such as Marystown and Port Union.

The Lynx, which is owned by OCI, is an offshore shrimp trawler that offloads its catch in Bay Roberts and has about 52 unionized employees on two crews.

The workers, who go to sea for up to 60 days each time, have been without a contract for about six years.

On Friday, the crew voted unanimously to take strike action, and informed the company job action would begin Monday.

But the company pressed ahead with plans to sail the vessel Sunday, and mobilized a new crew of “regular, professional fishermen who have been fishing on boats like this their whole lives,” OCI chief executive officer Martin Sullivan told the media Monday.

But there were no signs Monday morning union workers were willing to budge. They had erected a heated tent on the dock, and vowed to stand their ground in order to protect their jobs.

“They’re not letting it go. It’s as simple as that,” stated Roland Hedderson, a staff representative with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers  (FFAW) union. None of the workers would agree to an interview.

The union claims the company is attempting to remove the shrimp quotas from the Lynx and have the catch harvested by a non-unionized vessel.

What’s more, it says the company wants the Lynx to harvest redfish, which is lower in value and could result in a loss of earnings of up to 40 per cent.

The company is in negotiations with the provincial government, hoping to export unprocessed redfish outside the country for processing.

FFAW president Earle McCurdy described the company’s actions Monday as “the most anti-union attack I’ve experienced in my time with the union.”

Both sides have accused the other of acting recklessly and being out of control, with Martin calling the union’s actions as “pressure tactics to try to bring us to our economic knees.”

Sullivan said the dispute was “much larger than the Lynx,” and was linked to the company’s decision not to reopen plants in Marystown or Port Union, and efforts

to export unprocessed fish products.

OCI even went so far in a news release Monday as to accuse the union of trying to bring down the company.

“It is clear that the union has moved on in an effort to destroy this important fishing company because of their refusal to negotiate an agreement on the Lynx,” said the release.

But Sullivan said the company has a responsibility “to the over 1,000 people who work with us to continue with our business.”

McCurdy accused the company of having an agenda to “corporatize” the fishery, to the detriment of workers in this province.

Meanwhile, an RCMP official said it was not yet clear whether an injunction brought down by the court last fall is still valid.

To clarify the situation the FFAW launched an application in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday asking for direction on the matter and the right to continue its picket.

The RCMP also took the unusual step Monday of issuing a pre-emptive news release specific to the situation — basically voicing its hope that it will remain peaceful.

“The RCMP is committed to ensuring the public’s safety and keeping the peace during any protest in Bay Roberts. All parties are allowed to negotiate in good faith and the RCMP looks forward to a quick and peaceful resolution to this matter,” stated the release.

The situation has also prompted backlash from politicians and labour leaders. Both opposition parties slammed OCI’s move to hire replacement workers.


Distraction tactic

Liberal fisheries critic Jim Bennett suggested in a news release that the company’s move was nothing more than a distraction tactic.

“One has to question why this company would be engaged in such a brazen move when they are trying to secure a positive decision from the province on fish export exemptions,” said Bennett.

“I would suspect that they are trying to create a diversion to take attention away the plant closures in Marystown and Port Union and from their request to ship out whole yellowtail and redfish.”

Meanwhile, in addition to criticizing OCI, NDP fisheries critic Christopher Mitchelmore and labour critic Dale Kirby called on the province to introduce anti-replacement worker legislation.

“This aggressiveness is what people in the fishing industry have come to expect from OCI,” says Mitchelmore.

“This company puts profit ahead of everything else, and it may be time for government to take community-based solutions more seriously.”

The Newfoundland and Lab-rador Federation of Labour re-leased a statement echoing the NDP’s call for “anti-scab labour” legislation.

Federation president Lana Payne stated that OCI’s behaviour “is giving labour relations in our province a black eye.”

Fisheries Minister Darin King is in transit back to the province and was not available for comment.


The Compass

Organizations: OCI, RCMP, Marystown and Port Union Allied Workers Supreme Court Newfoundland and Lab Federation of Labour The Compass

Geographic location: Bay Roberts, Marystown, Port Union Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Response to Daughter of a fisherman
    February 07, 2012 - 22:01

    Daughter of a fisherman said "these men have built OCI... My father has worked to make this company what it is since the early 70's...... They are not fighting for more money they are fighting for what is rightfully theirs. ...It's not that the company does not want them the company wants them to do what they say to make their pockets richer on the expense of the workers.".................With all due respect, these men didn't build OCI, they are just workers. The owners of OCI, the shareholders, the accountants, the advertising people, the engineers built OCI. Nothing of OCI belongs to the workers. They are just labour, and their labour is all that they own...NOTHING more. All that is rightfully owned by the workers is their labour. The company has every right, as the legal owners of the boat, to staff whomever they want on the boat. They can hire cheaper workers, they can hire foreigners, or they can give the jobs to the friends. As property owner, they have fundamental rights that are being violated by the workers. The workers should be jailed as by violating the court's injunction, they are in contempt of court. Lastly, whether you like it or not, the company has the right to line their pockets at the expense of the workers. Property rights are fundamental and must be upheld, even at the expense of workers. Anything less is unjust. Fortunately, OCI is very close to operating without these people who are breaking the law, and once OCI moves on, the rest of the world will forget that this ever happened.

    • Daughter of a fisherman
      February 08, 2012 - 17:20

      I respect what your saying but to say that these men have not help make this company what is is so untrue and ignorant... You I assume have never worked out at sea, it's easy to say the things you are saying, but lets be fair... These men have sacrificed so much and have not asked for more money they are fighting for what they deserve. If your boss tells you tomorrow they will decrease your wages by 40 percent and increase the workload,your telling me that you would just agree and move on because the company has that right.... What about the employees rights.... We are living in a world where the rich get tier and the poor get poorer, so not right.

  • Daughter of a fisherman
    February 07, 2012 - 13:53

    These men have built OCI... My fath has workedto make this company what it is since the early 70's.". There are men that are close to retirement and this is the respect and appreciation that they get.... It is sick and unfair to expect these men to constantly set back and take the abuse they have endured for years. They are not fighting for more money they are fighting for what is rightfully theirs. Spend one day on those boats, tossing and turning, being away from families, being out in all types of weather and tell me you would not be doing or at least feel the way they do. They have worked hard and sacrificed so much to hold on to their rights. It's not that the company does not want them the company wants them to do what they say to make their pockets richer on the expense of the is what they need, not not someone thinking they know anything about this fight and what they have endured for over 30 years when they clearly don't have a clue!!!

  • G F Dunphy
    February 07, 2012 - 13:50

    It"s nice to see that your Union is on top of everything, 6 years without a contract, you all need to file a complaint against your Union with the Labour Board for Bargening In Bad Faith and Failing to Provide Proper Repsentation For Its Members, that would be my course of action and speak to a good Labour Lawyer.

  • bob
    February 07, 2012 - 10:43

    what about the the crew they are union and want more money, saying union this union that and sticking together but they are offloading at a non-union plant they got to sail past a union planet to get to the non-union and the the union planet is a ffaw and they are using ffaw to fight for them BS so their doing the same thing as the company is doing, they want ffaw to fight for them but the won't land at a ffaw plant union what a joke

  • redrantingtory
    February 07, 2012 - 10:13

    Oh it's you again? Not using your name for fear of being tarred and feathered? I have never seen such a vile right wing brainwashed aghenda in all my living days. Who have you sold today? Your Grandmother? Tell me, how do you sleep at night? Do you have no shame? Sell eveyone down the drain for the almighty dollar. I pity anyone who works for you. I thought your kind dissappeared in the 20's and 30's but apparently slave owners like you are still alive and well. Tweet all you like but where there's natural resources there are people who want them and will invest no matter what. Lets only hope we don't get to many of your ilk who weasle there way in here on the backs of hard working people. Oh and by the company doesn't own the QUOTA. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador own it. The company as the option to fish it that's all. With regards of jailing workers for standing up for their rights? What do you think this is a Police State? Tell us your name so we can boycott you and your dirty business. Naaa you won't do that because only a coward and a eel would make such statements as you have done on this story and previous stories of this situation. The way you treat people it's only a matter of time before workers revolt against you. You're the whole reason for UNIONS. You make them necessary and they will never go way, as you wish, while people like you are in business. So in the end go on and treat your workers like you do and go on with your anti union rant but all you are doing is making an atmosphere for unions. What a fool. How narrow minded and shortsighted.

  • The company has a right to use non-unionized workers
    February 07, 2012 - 08:16

    THe company has a right to hire whomever they want. Were are the police....Why aren't the former workers being jailed....they are voilating an injunction. Profits should come before everything else. The quota belongs to the company, the boat belongs to the company. The only thing the workers own is their labour, and the company does not want their labour anymore. THey have efficiently sourced more efficient labour and are right, both logically and fiscally, for doing so. But that is okay. I will tweet this article as widely as I can to let deter anyone from engaging in an NL investment.