Members of ILWU Canada rally in front of Transport Canada offices in Prince Rupert on the morning of Jan. 12.

Members of ILWU Canada rally in front of Transport Canada offices in Prince Rupert on the morning of Jan. 12.

ILWU members rail against proposed regulations changes

Group calls for Trudeau government to act on its 'change' message and stop considering action that would lead to 12,000 marine jobs lost

More than two dozen members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada rallied outside the Transport Canada offices on Second Avenue West on Thursday morning to send a strong message to the federal government: allowing the end of cabotage and privatizing Canada’s ports and airports would be a devastating mistake for hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers.

Led by president of ILWU Local 400 marine section Terry Engler and president of ILWU Local 523 Regan Fletcher, union members from Prince Rupert to Vancouver rallied to tell the new Justin Trudeau Liberal government to bring in what they promised: change.

“The end of cabotage (legal guarantees that ensure maritime work in Canada remains in the hands of Canadians) would mean that foreign vessels with foreign crews could come into Canada and run between Prince Rupert and Vancouver,” said Engler.

“It could mean the loss of thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages lost, and the privatization of ports, another issue which could mean the end of longshore jobs.”

The members are railing against a report from who they call a “disgraced politician”, former Conservative cabinet minister David Emerson. The report was first proposed under the Harper government, but whose recommendations are still being pursued by the new Liberal government.

The workers also spoke out against foreign-owned companies employing foreign seafarers, often only paying them $1.00 – $4.00 per hour, and not allowing dissent with orders, even if the orders are to pollute Canada’s environment with no regard to the health of surrounding wildlife.

Engler went on to say that 12 years of the Harper government’s actions has allowed for toothless regulations (seen as red tape by the former government and an impediment to business) by Transport Canada and the consequential underfunding of staff levels and budgets to the department tasked with overseeing the marine transport industry.

“For 10 years, the good men and women at Transport Canada have been pushed into complacency,” he said.

“These [international] trade deals like Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) often allow for companies to bring in their own workers. And while we work very hard to support international seafarers, they have no rights to protection, they can be blacklisted if they point anything out … Foreign crews don’t really have the ability to complain when the captain tells them to dump oil in the water. They either do it, or they’re fired,” Engler said, adding that the wages often get sent back to the seafarers’ home in supporting families and extended families. It would not be a livable wage in Canada.

The president also said that when incorporating the trucking, rail and airline industry, the end of cabotage might not just mean the loss of 12,000 marine jobs, but potentially hundreds of thousands of transport jobs across Canada, especially with the potential privatization of airports.

Representing 90 workers at Ridley Terminals, Fletcher implored his union members to contact their MPs and MLAs to take action against the government’s consideration of Emerson’s report.

“In November 2016, the Trudeau government asked investment banking group Morgan Stanley to review whether the country should sell its federally-run ports, with a decision expected in the new year. The consequences of privatization will adversely affect jobs and the environment by allowing foreign corporations and their relentless greed to control Canada’s most valuable infrastructural assets,” said Fletcher.

The rally coincided with similar actions taken in Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto, Montreal and St. John’s in Canada at the exact same hour.

The group marched around the block at 10:30 a.m. after Engler and Fletcher made speeches to the participants, with trucks and vehicles heard honking every few minutes after seeing their signs.

In an email to the Northern View, Daniel Savoie, media relations with Transport Canada defended the government’s support of CETA.

“Canada supports the achievement of a more efficient maritime regime that facilitates international trade. CETA will help improve supply chain management, logistics and the attractiveness of Canadian ports as a gateway to North America,” Savoie stated.

“With the expected increase in two-way trade and the transportation of imports and exports under CETA, the marine industry, including transportation services providers and port terminal operators, should expect to see increased activity. CETA contains targeted commitments for services that are currently not being provided by Canadians, or where additional capacity requirements were identified … The Government of Canada recognizes that a strong, integrated and modern transportation system is fundamental to Canada’s continuing economic performance and competitiveness. That is why [Transport Minister Marc] Garneau presented the government’s strategy in the context of the Canada Transportation Act Review Report, Transportation 2030, which will ensure that Canada’s transportation system supports economic growth, job creation and Canada’s middle class while promoting a sustainable environment,” he added.

“We’re not here to attack Transport Canada,” said Engler. “We believe that they want to do a good job, but they need to have the resources to do that good job and right now they don’t have that.”