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Letter: Fish union failing members on crucial issues

Published on July 8, 2017

I wish to respond to Lana Payne’s June 24th column (“Austerity should be on trial”). I have no problem with the opinion piece — austerity, no doubt, had a hand in the recent tragic high-rise fire in London, England. 

But while austerity should be on trial in Europe, FFAW-Unifor was actually before the courts right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Payne, Unifor’s Atlantic director, ignored the elephant on the wharf — as has the province’s Federation of Labour and every other union leader in the province, and country. 

Oil and fish don’t mix, but the FFAW-Unifor has been silent for years on the issues of seismic testing, exploration, drilling, oil dispersants, etc.

It’s unprecedented for a Canadian union to have deceived its members, which is exactly what happened with scallop harvesters in the Strait of Belle Isle. 

In short, the FFAW-Unifor executive negotiated a deal with Nalcor to compensate harvesters who would lose scallop grounds to transmission lines connecting Muskrat Falls power with the island.

When consent forms were eventually circulated, harvesters were not told that the FFAW executive had already reached an agreement.

That was pure deceit. 

Then there was the deal itself — the FFAW-Unifor executive decided that only active scallop harvesters should be compensated, and then over 30 years. Harvesters, however, wanted active and inactive fishermen compensated with a one-time, lump sum payment.

In March 2016, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled with harvesters and against the FFAW executive. The union appealed the decision, and on June 16th, the Court of Appeal again ruled with harvesters. 

For years, harvesters have complained that when the FFAW holds a meeting, it’s to tell them what’s already been decided. The scallop case proves that. 

The FFAW breached a “fiduciary duty” to harvesters — a sacred trust, in other words — but the union refuses to apologize to its members, and Payne won’t force them. 

The silence from the labour community is only interrupted by the clink of their champagne socialist glasses.

Other concerns have been raised as of late regarding the FFAW’s cosy relationship with oil companies. 

The amount of seismic activity off Newfoundland and Labrador this year has been described by the media as “super-sized.”

Meantime, an Australian study has found the seismic sound blasts made by airguns searching for new oil reserves under the ocean floor can kill large swaths of plankton, the basis of the marine food chain, leaving the ocean dotted with plankton holes.

The findings are particularly alarming because zooplankton — which includes worms, crustaceans like krill and many other tiny animals that drift near the ocean surface — are food for species higher in the food chain. 

The Grand Banks of Newfoundland are still delicate — with most fish/shellfish stocks at or near critical levels — and the number of air guns fired off over the next few months will rival America’s Wild West.

Oil and fish don’t mix, but the FFAW-Unifor has been silent for years on the issues of seismic testing, exploration, drilling, oil dispersants, etc. FISH-NL has questioned whether the union has been bought and paid for.
CBC News at least asked the FFAW-Unifor how much revenue the union generates from activities related to the oil and gas industry, but the FFAW did not respond, and the story apparently died there.

That’s unacceptable. 

In her column, Payne wrote there’s a reason British people are calling for justice — “because a grave injustice has occurred.”

How is it that Payne can hear cries from across the Atlantic, but be stone deaf to the pleas of her own suffering union membership right here at home?

The FFAW-Unifor hasn’t only lost its way, the union has forgotten what it stands for. 

 

Ryan Cleary, president
FISH-NL