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Letter: What makes an inshore fish harvester?

Fishing boats at St. John’s harbour Wednesday. Many fishermen are doubtful owner-operator and fleet separation policies can be enforced enough to be effective.
Fishing boats in St. John's. — File photo

I write this letter to inform your readers why it’s important to define an inshore fish harvester for purposes of a vote by the Labour Relations Board to ultimately decide which union should represent them.

Here are three, real-life examples:

1) Two men who hold commercial fishing licenses are on the provincial government’s “sunshine list” as having made more than $100,000 in base salary/overtime in 2016 (one alone made more than $130,000), should they also be eligible to vote?

2) A teenager worked aboard his grandfather’s boat a couple of summer’s ago to help him out, and had a fish sale put in his name, with dues automatically remitted to the FFAW/Unifor. Should he be given a vote?
3) A man works aboard a fishing boat for a trip or two a couple of summers ago, never to set foot on a boat again. Should he be entitled to a ballot?

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The harvesters I speak with say the answers to each of those questions is no — in those cases the people should not be eligible to vote. They also say those examples (and there are countless others) reflect why it’s important to define a bona fide harvester for purposes of a vote.

But there’s another issue.

The FFAW/Unifor argues every last person with a fish sale in their name and dues automatically remitted to the union is an inshore harvester.
But the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP), representing most of the province’s fish plants that buy the fish and automatically remit dues to the union, has said from the get go that’s not the case.
In a Jan. 25, 2017 letter to the board, Derek Butler, executive director of ASP, wrote consideration must be given to the definition of fisher “in particular related to active participation in the industry, and fishing versus shore-based activities (i.e. an enterprise owner may decide to pay someone from the catch proceeds who has not participated as crew in a voyage, a common practice in the industry.)”

Butler went ever further in an April 11, 2017 email to the investigator with the Labour Relations Board:
“Producers remit union dues for anyone receiving payment of any share of catch as directed by enterprise owners. This would include harvesters and others who may not have fished (as in any business, an enterprise owner can decide who to pay from the value of the landed catch; producers provide a payroll service, pure and simple). Whether they are harvesters, as worded in the order, is the debatable point. Assuming some who receive payment or shares of catch payments are not actual harvesters, producers would have little ability to determine from payroll alone who they are. The order says to provide names of harvesters, but more accurately, it should read anyone for whom union dues are remitted. The task before the board is then to decide who the commercial harvesters are.”
Those statements by Butler undermine the FFAW-Unifor’s argument that every last person who pays dues is an inshore harvester, and help explain FISH-NL’s stand that an inshore harvester must be defined for purposes of a vote.

Ryan Cleary,

President, FISH-NL

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