OCI warns of legal action as protesters set up picket at company HQ
FFAW members picket near the OCI headquarters in Paradise Thursday. In foreground is Greg Pretty, FFAW spokesman for the workers. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
As the sun set on the first day of locked-out trawlermen’s protest at Ocean Choice International’s (OCI) Paradise headquarters, the company’s CEO said he expects the courts to remove protesters from the parking lot.
About 20 disgruntled workers, locked in a labour dispute with the fishing company, set up a picket in OCI’s parking lot Thursday morning. The workers had been protesting in Bay Roberts against the company’s plan to use replacement workers on the deepsea trawler Newfoundland Lynx.
But the Lynx set sail with a replacement crew early Thursday morning, after RCMP officers escorted the workers aboard. Some of the pickets — members of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union — were arrested for attempting to block workers from getting on, but were later let go without being charged.
Ocean Choice CEO Martin Sullivan, in a news conference in the company’s boardroom, said the protest is an unfortunate situation, and blamed the labour dispute on union management.
“We certainly sympathize with the workers. We don’t think there’s any need to be in this position,” he said.
“We were getting very close to an agreement just before Christmas, negotiating a contract. After Christmas, everything went sideways when they came back with a 160 per cent increase in the price of fish, so we think there’s a larger agenda of the FFAW. They’ve threatened us in this boardroom to shut us down, to bring us to our economic knees if we close Marystown. Our view is that they’re basically carrying forward with that agenda.”
The FFAW’s industrial director, Greg Pretty, said Thursday morning at the protest that the arrests and use of replacement workers make it clear that Newfoundland and Labrador is a “scab province.”
“The real issue here is the medieval labour laws that allowed the police to escort people who are taking jobs from the crew members,” Pretty said, as drivers on Topsail Road honked their horns as they passed the protest.
“It’s incredible that in 2012 you can have a legal strike and yet they can lose their jobs to scab workers. This province is a scab province, and that needs to change.”
Worker Gary Fisher and his wife Beryl were among those arrested early Thursday morning in Bay Roberts.
“We stood our ground and they got three RCMP officers’ cars in, and we had to move to let them in, so we let them in,” said Beryl. Shortly after, around 2 a.m., a bus carrying replacement workers arrived, and the striking workers refused to move, she said. “There was no violence. Everybody was good on both sides.”
It was about 4:30 a.m., after what Beryl called a “small skirmish” that the riot squad got in position, she said. “We were told if we didn’t move, we were going to be arrested. So they started moving forward, moving forward … they started to arrest. They had three or four gone, and my husband was there, they arrested him. I was next to go,” she said.
In all, the police arrested 23 people. “After they arrested so many, they just hauled the bus up, kept us all back, and the boys got off the bus and literally ran to the boat.”
David Decker, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said the protest would be on Ocean Choice’s doorstep “for the long haul.”
“This is different for this group of workers in that their workplace is a ship. It’s a floating platform, and obviously today, with the help of the RCMP, they got the scabs across the picket line and their workplace sailed away,” he said. “It probably won’t be back for the next week or so.”
Sullivan, though, said he expects property owner Pennecon to take legal action to move the protesters off the property, as happened in Bay Roberts and earlier for a picket in front of the company’s shuttered fish plant in Marystown.
“We have to enforce our right to conduct our business. The property owner here — we’re not the property owner — have given a trespass notice to the workers today. If the trespass continues, I guess they’ll have to go forward to try to get an injunction,” he said. “We have to be allowed to conduct our business. That’s all we want to do.”
The picketers were handed unsigned pieces of paper Thursday, warning them that any unauthorized access to the property was considered trespassing, but Decker said they weren’t moving.
“We have a right to protest here. I don’t know where we’re supposed to move, out into the middle of the street?” he said. “Clearly, they want these people to go away. They do not want the faces of these people seen by the public. That’s why they came under cover of darkness last night.”
Pretty snorted when he was told Sullivan expects to have the protesters removed.
“That’s typical horseshit from Martin Sullivan. The fact of the matter is,” he said, gesturing at the Ocean Choice office, “that’s Ocean Choice International’s office right there. That’s their main office for Newfoundland. Our contract is with Ocean Choice. … When we strike Ocean Choice, we’re going to their office. And I’m happy to report we’re here.”
St. John’s North MHA Dale Kirby, the NDP’s labour critic, said the government has not been involved enough in the dispute.
“I think the government needs to be, first and foremost, show some leadership,” he said, asking why Fisheries Minister Darin King has been addressing the situation, and not Terry French, the minister responsible for the provincial labour relations agency.
Kirby said the government needs to reassure the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that the province’s fishing heritage isn’t sailing away with the Lynx.
“They weren’t elected by Ocean Choice International. They were elected by the people,” he said.
Workers waved at passing vehicles and held signs that read “We Did Time For Our Jobs” and “Scabs Apply At OCI.” Beryl Fisher said she was encouraged by the honks of support from passing motorists. “People need to know that we’re here, and this is not right, what they’re doing. This is definitely not right,” said Beryl Fisher.
King says no to OCI proposal
Multiple demands at play in government’s rejection
By Andrew Robinson and Daniel MacEachern
The provincial government will not accept Ocean Choice International’s (OCI) proposal to ship the majority of its yellowtail landings unprocessed in exchange for processing the remainder in Fortune.
Fisheries Minister Darin King said the decision was not an easy one for him to make, given its connection to his home community of Fortune.
“I talked to people in Fortune as we were going through this process. My commitment here is to get the best return for the province, and that included Fortune. I hope they’ll understand this is about securing a future for the resource.”
Speaking with reporters Thursday afternoon at the Confederation Building, King said the proposal from OCI did not offer enough value to the province.
Three issues were central to government’s decision not to accept the deal, according to King. It wanted 10 million pounds of flatfish to be processed in Fortune on an annual basis instead of the seven million pounds offered by OCI. The latter figure represents approximately one-quarter of the company’s total annual yellowtail catch. The remainder of product would have been shipped outside the province for processing.
While OCI has claimed it would lose money processing in Fortune, King said even at 10 million pounds the company could make a modest profit before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, based on government’s analysis.
“Our analysis shows there would be a slight profit margin when we did the final assessment, factoring in the entire groundfish operation of redfish and yellowtail.”
King said OCI flatly rejected that proposal.
Government was also reluctant to extinguish the landing obligations related to the company’s licence when the Quota Holdco agreement comes up for renewal in five years.
“When Quota Holdco expires in roughly five years time, it’s my expectation the federal minister will renew that commitment on the same terms and conditions. That means he’ll renew it for another nine-year-period with a requirement that fish product be landed in the province, which gives us some security.”
Finally, government wants OCI to provide adequate support to displaced workers in Marystown and Port Union. King said he has witnessed no action on that matter, despite OCI previously indicating it would provide a top-up for the current fish plant worker employment support program.
Speaking with reporters later in the day, OCI CEO Martin Sullivan expressed disappointment over government’s decision.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed that (the proposal has) been rejected. We’ll be taking some time over the next few weeks to regroup and see what our next moves are,” he said.
“We’ve been clear that in order for Fortune to be a long-term, year-round facility, it would need to add yellowtail flounder to it, so it’s currently operating in the winter, producing our cod and greysole, and we’ll have to assess the future of that once that season’s over,” he said. “We’ve been clear that after April there’s no plan for Fortune as it sits today, that we will operate until we finish our quotas for the current winter season, and then we’ll have to reassess and sit with all our staff and see what the next steps are.”
Sullivan maintained the Fortune plant would lose money while operating under the company’s proposal.
Talks between the two sides were still taking place earlier this week, said King.
The minister added government is willing to hear from OCI on any new proposals it may look to put forward.
“If Ocean Choice can’t see a way to do a better return to the province than they presented in this proposal, we’re not prepared to accept it,” he said.
Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union president Earle McCurdy, while not displeased with King’s ultimate decision, was not impressed with some of the details coming out of Thursday’s news conference.
“Really, the minister effectively turned his back on Marystown. What this involves, between the redfish and the flatfish combined, 75 per cent of the fish would still leave the province without processing content whatsoever, and frankly, that’s not good enough.”
King said in his view, the fish plants in Marystown and Port Union are closed for good, and once town officials and workers inform government such is the case, they will begin introducing programs to help the situation.
The official opposition’s fisheries critic applauded the minister’s decision.
“The minster made the right decision, and I’m pleased that he did it,” said Liberal MHA Jim Bennett, adding much credit should go to voices in Marystown who told King not to make the deal.