Canada settles union lawsuits over foreign seafarer permits

The following is the text of a news release from Seafarers’ International Union of Canada (SIUC):

(MONTREAL) — Commencing next week, the federal court had been set to hear arguments in dozens of lawsuits filed by the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada against the government of Canada. However, the case has now been resolved with the SIUC accepting a last-minute settlement offer put forward by the government of Canada.

The SIU filed 42 lawsuits in 2015 saying that, instead of providing Canadian seafarers with the opportunity to work, and in violation of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), the government of Canada was systematically issuing work permits to the non-Canadian crewmembers of hundreds of foreign ships engaged in shipping in Canadian waters. The SIUC found evidence that some of these temporary foreign workers made as little as $2.41 per hour while working in Canada, when they should have been paid the Canadian prevailing wage. In July 2016, the SIU filed an additional 13 lawsuits with similar allegations.

In July 2016, the government of Canada admitted that it improperly issued work permits to the foreign crewmembers of New England, a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker that engaged in shipping in Canada. The federal court granted SIUC’s judicial review applications and set aside 11 work permits for the crew of New England.

The SIUC was successful in reaching a settlement of the remaining outstanding 44 lawsuits with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Some of the settlement terms that ESDC has committed to are:

• Conduct a full review of ESDC’s TFWP policies and procedures as they relate to employment of temporary foreign workers on foreign-flagged vessels engaged in Canadian domestic shipping. ESDC will consult with SIU Canada regarding the format of stakeholder discussions and SIU will have a seat at the table.

• Immediately issue an interim practice directive to ESDC officers to enforce requirements under the TFWP requiring employers looking to hire foreign workers to crew vessels to first advertise the positions to Canadian seafarers to prove that there are no available Canadian seafarers, and to also require documentation from employers seeking an exemption from minimum advertising requirements.

• Carefully consider and commence investigations into the SIUC’s allegations that seafarers admitted to work in Canada as temporary foreign workers are not being paid the proper Canadian prevailing wage and, in some cases, are being paid below the Canadian minimum wage.

SIU President James Given said, “After 18 months of litigation, I am very happy to see the government finally agree to what we sought all along — enforcement and a review of the rules with the full participation of the SIU Canada. We are confident that the terms of the settlement will lead to hundreds of jobs for Canadian seafarers who are qualified and available to crew marine vessels of all sizes and types.”

The settlement is a major victory for the SIUC and its members. The SIU Canada looks forward to participating as a lead stakeholder in a full review of the TFWP policies and procedures as they relate to employment of temporary foreign Wworkers on foreign-flagged vessels of all types engaged in Canadian domestic shipping.

By Professional Mariner Staff