A seiner with herring in its net. (Ian McAllister)

Historic win for B.C. fishermen now bargaining under labour code

Seine boat fishermen are now their own collective bargaining unit

For the first time in B.C.’s history, those working on commercial fishing boats will be a certified bargaining unit under the labour code.

In October, seine boat fishermen voted on the question of whether or not they wanted the United Fishermen and Workers Union UNIFOR (UFAWU-UNIFOR) to be the collective bargaining agent for all the seine boats that fish for Canadian Fish Company (Canfisco).

However, counting of the ballots was delayed after Canfisco took UFAWU-UNIFOR to court to challenge their bargaining category claiming that “a bargaining unit that includes crew members of seine boats but not gillnet boats is not an appropriate unit for collective bargaining”

READ MORE: B.C. North Coast residents to Ottawa: ‘We can’t make a living fishing’

On June 17, the labour relations board ruled that seine fishers could be their own certified unit and for the ballots to be opened. Nearly 92 per cent of seine fishers voted in favour of getting certified to bargain like any other group of workers.

“This means whatever they want it to mean. Beside collective bargaining for prices, now they have an organization under which to get together to talk to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It gives them a chance to speak on issues from management to licensing issues because they are in a bargaining unit,” said Joy Thorkleson, president of UFAWU-UNIFOR.

This will be the very first time those working on fishing boats will become a certified unit, and a collective agreement negotiated, in B.C. under the labour code.

The bargaining unit now includes “all salmon seine boat crew members employed by Canadian Fishing Company including captains/skippers, engineers, mates, cooks, deckhands, and crew members who own the seine boat, and crew members who share ownership of the boat, in the Province of British Columbia”.

READ MORE: Investigating change to B.C.’s fishing licence and quota system

Previously, those working on fishing boats were negotiating with the Canadian Fishing Company under a commercial agreement. They did not have the protection of the rules and regulations from the labour code, meaning companies could have cancelled deals without ramification, explained Thorkleson.

For the past 20 years all gillnetters and seiners negotiated together for an agreement on how much they were going to get paid for fish, but there had been no successful negotiations.

In 1996, the B.C. government put legislation together — the Fishing Collective Bargaining Act — which considered negotiations to be a labour agreement. However, this legislation had never been used before according to Thorkleson.

For a union to collectively bargain for workers, the workers have to have a certification.

Last year, they talked to seine fishermen who said they wanted the union to bargain for them, and signed up a majority of seine workers fishing for the Canadian Fish Company.

Both parties now have 10 days after the votes have been counted to engage in negotiations; they are therefore expected to start in the next couple of days.


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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