Frustrations aplenty with FFAW
Port de Grave harvesters among those interested in proposed union
Those that The Compass approached working away on boats last week at the wharf in Port de Grave were generally reluctant to say much about the new harvester-only union drawing attention all over Newfoundland.
But those who did share a few words — on the condition of anonymity — suggested there’s lots of people in the area who are frustrated with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union.
“Anything is better than what it has been,” one harvester told The Compass, adding the majority of people he talks with want in on the new union.
The union drive so far is getting some serious looks. Hundreds of harvesters attended meetings held last week in Corner Brook and Clarenville.
Frustrations hinge on a variety of issues that have come up in the industry. One man on the wharf pointed to various fees in place and the exorbitant compensation for union management and staff.
On the flipside of that, a pension for harvesters amounts to selling off their enterprise when they’re ready to leave the sea. Meanwhile, those who continue to harvest are finding it difficult to compete against boats owned by plant operators and even the union itself.
“The union now is DFO to us, because whatever they says goes,” another harvester told The Compass last week, adding he feels there’s a lot of developments within the FFAW that are covered up.
There’s also some general dissatisfaction over cod licenses granting harvesters the right to catch 2,000-3,000 pounds per week.
“Why would a 65-foot or a 70foot boat go out and get that, and pay a crew? There’s nothing there to do it. And that’s what really stirred all this up, is when the cod fishery came out. People weren’t consulted about it. Two or three (people) higher up in the union come out with all this planning, and there’s no consultations done with fishers … It’s been brewing for awhile, but that’s what I think put it over the top.”
The push for the a new union — spearheaded by former politician and journalist Ryan Cleary — is focused on harvesters and would not involve plant workers, some of whom are represented by the FFAW. Cleary has suggested there’s a conflict of interest at play there.
Those that The Compass spoke with about sharing a union with plant workers disagreed. One harvester said plant workers ideally deserve better pay than what they currently get in most plants. Another worries what a labour dispute would do to the industry.
“If anything happened and the union got split and the fishermen and the workers got separated in different unions, boy, I could see problems there if they ever went on strike. How would you ever get things resolved?”
A concern brought up last week revolved around the muscle a new union would manage to flex in comparison to the FFAW. In recent years, it joined forces with Unifor, which is the largest private sector union in Canada with over 310,000 members.
“How’s a small group of 5,000 people going to fund itself? Right now you’re in there with Unifor — probably one of the biggest unions in Canada. If something happens, at least you’ve got something to fall back on.
“I don’t know who’s going to put all the money into this new union. You’re not going to get people to run that union for nothing.”
That said, he also believes what’s happening now could bear fruit whether or not the union drive is successful. Cleary and his cohorts must attract 50-per-cent-plus-one support to establish a new union.
“I think it’s probably a good idea that they did start up this, to at least put the ones that’s running it now, to put their feet to the fire,” he said.
“I don’t know if they’re going to get enough support to form another union, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.”
There are fish harvesters in Port de Grave curious to see what will come of a push to form a new alternative to the FFAW.