North­ern Penin­sula fish­er­men weigh in on union de­bate

Northern Pen - - FRONT PAGE - BY KYLE GREENHAM NORTH­ERN PENIN­SULA, NL

As is­sues abound within a par­tic­u­larly tur­bu­lent fish­ery this sum­mer, the union de­bate among New­found­land and Labrador har­vesters still seems un­cer­tain as ever.

Since they came on the scene, the Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Sea Har­vesters of New­found­land and Labrador (FISH-NL) has been stir­ring up a call for a labour board vote on whether the long-stand­ing Fish, Foods and Al­lied Work­ers union (FFAW) still de­serves to rep­re­sent the prov­ince’s fish­ers.

Maxwell Sex­ton has spent five decades fish­ing the wa­ters of the North­ern Penin­sula. While he knows the com­mon com­plaints, he says he’s never had any per­sonal is­sues with the FFAW.

With a strong lack of capelin in the North­ern Penin­sula this sum­mer, Rear­don says har­vesters across the is­land have been call­ing for an end to the capelin fish­ery for years. He feels the rea­son the capelin fish­ery re­mains open is due to prof­its the FFAW can make from the fish­ery.

“They won’t close it be­cause those drag­gers are pay­ing in big money and big union dues,” Rear­don said.

Sex­ton says leav­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion for a new union could be a dis­as­trous mis­take.

“With our num­bers, we’ve got a good or­ga­ni­za­tion and a big union,” said Sex­ton. “I’ve al­ways been for the FFAW, I’ve al­ways said that and I see no rea­son to change.”

He says with the ben­e­fits and sup­port he’s seen in the past, the FFAW has been help­ful for har­vesters who were of­ten scroung­ing for work and as­sis­tance be­fore the union was around.

“If you’ve got a fine from Fish­eries you don’t think you should have, they’ll back you up to the bit­ter end,” he said. “And they’ve done that for a lot of peo­ple.”

But Dan Rear­don of Goose Cove, a fish­er­man who re­tired just this year, says he’s had a rough his­tory with the FFAW and is com­pletely fed up with the union.

“Ninety per cent of the rea­son I re­tired is be­cause of them,” Rear­don said. “They’re not do­ing any­thing for us and it’s time to get rid of them.”

A va­ri­ety of frus­tra­tions led Rear­don to the point where he says he couldn’t take it any­more and sold off his li­censes. Rear­don’s prob­lems with the FFAW deal with sev­eral de­ci­sions he says were poor, mis­man­aged and not done with the fish­er­men’s in­ter­ests at heart.

He says sug­ges­tions he’s of­fered of giv­ing over-quota catches to char­i­ties, se­nior or­ga­ni­za­tions or other boats have been denied, and in­stead he says he’s seen many caught species be­ing thrown away at the be­hest of the FFAW.

Rear­don was also up­set about the re­cent treat­ment of crab fish­er­men in St. An­thony. The har­vesters were or­dered by the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans to throw away their fi­nal crab catch of the sea­son be­cause of a de­lay in tak­ing them out of the wa­ter. As well, the fact that the first week of the cod fish­ery in St. An­thony and Goose Cove saw the fish­er­men with­out any­one to sell their catch fur­ther dis­ap­pointed Rear­don.

“They don’t care for the fish­er­men at all,” he said. “As far as I’m con­cerned, they’re af­ter their own ends.”

With a strong lack of capelin in the North­ern Penin­sula this sum­mer, Rear­don says har­vesters across the is­land have been call­ing for an end to the capelin fish­ery for years. He feels the rea­son the capelin fish­ery re­mains open is due to prof­its the FFAW can make from the fish­ery.

“They won’t close it be­cause those drag­gers are pay­ing in big money and big union dues,” Rear­don said.

FISH-NL most re­cently put pres­sure on the Labour Re­la­tions Board in an Aug. 15 let­ter, call­ing for an im­me­di­ate vote on union rep­re­sen­ta­tion for the prov­ince’s har­vesters.

In a re­sponse penned by lawyer Earl O’Dea, the FFAW has called FISH-NL’s al­le­ga­tions of the past ma­li­cious and un­founded. In the re­sponse, O’Dea says the bur­den of proof re­lies on FISH-NL to show it first has the sup­port of the ma­jor­ity of fish har­vesters be­fore a vote can take place.

Dave, a work­ing fish­er­man who wished to have his name and lo­ca­tion kept anony­mous due to fears of reper­cus­sions from the union, says while he has a long range of is­sues with the FFAW, he is un­cer­tain if bring­ing his mem­ber­ship over to an or­ga­ni­za­tion like FISH-NL is re­ally the so­lu­tion.

Dave says he agrees with crit­i­cisms FISH-NL have made about the FFAW, but is scep­ti­cal be­cause of who is preach­ing the crit­i­cisms. He says given the his­tory of FISH-NL pres­i­dent Ryan Cleary’s in- volve­ment in dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties, he wor­ries Cleary is an op­por­tunist and his con­cern for the well­be­ing of har­vesters is in­sin­cere.

Rear­don says he un­der­stands there are some doubts and sus­pi­cions sur­round­ing FISH-NL, but feels leav­ing the FFAW for the or­ga­ni­za­tion is a risk worth tak­ing.

“We can’t do no wrong be­cause we can’t get any worse than what we got now,” Rear­don said.

Sex­ton says there’s noth­ing wrong with tak­ing a vote to see how har­vesters feel about a change in union, but he doesn’t sus­pect FISH-NL would win out. Sex­ton says the union’s strength is in its num­bers, and a new union would cause a ma­jor di­vi­sion amongst fish­ers.

“I can’t see it work­ing with a new union com­ing in,” Sex­ton said. “FISH-NL would have to amal­ga­mate with a big­ger union, be­cause a smaller union wouldn’t get any­thing done. It’s hard enough to beat the DFO with the num­bers we have now.”

The most com­mon com­plaint from har­vesters, Sex­ton says, is around union pay­ments, but he feels those same pay­ments will re­main re­gard­less of the union in place.

“Peo­ple are bet­ter to hang on,” he said. “We’ve got good ben­e­fits and the union can help with what­ever is needed.”

Whether a vote will go ahead has yet to be de­ter­mined, but union-re­lated opin­ion and de­bate among har­vesters of the prov­ince ap­pears to be grow­ing stronger than ever.

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