Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Thank you for having us here today, members of the committee.
My name is Jim Given. I am the president of Seafarers' International Union, and I'm also chair of the Cabotage Task Force worldwide for the International Transport Workers' Federation. .
The SIU is concerned about the proposed amendments to the Coasting Trade Act that build upon amendments to the act put forward through the CETA implementation bill, Bill C-30. They will allow, for the first time, foreign vessels to engage in maritime cabotage without first having to obtain a coasting trade waiver.
The Coasting Trade Act requires that no foreign ship or non-duty ship engage in cabotage without a licence. The broad definition of coasting trade under the act means that maritime activity of a commercial nature in Canadian waters is restricted to Canadian-flagged vessels, including the carriage of goods and passengers by ship from one place in Canada to another. Under the current system, a foreign ship may be imported into Canada to engage in coasting trade if the Canadian Transportation Agency, on application, determines that no available or suitable Canadian-flagged or Canadian-crewed vessel can be used for the required operation.
Changes to the Coasting Trade Act by Bill C-30 will now allow foreign ships owned by European Union citizens or flagged by a European Union member state to engage in the following cabotage activities without a coasting trade waiver: transporting empty containers between two Canadian ports, dredging activities, and the carriage of goods between the ports of Halifax and Montreal as one leg of the importation or exportation of goods to or from Canada.
In addition, subclause 70(1) of Bill C-49 would further amend the Coasting Trade Act to allow any foreign vessel, regardless of flag, to perform the repositioning of empty containers between Canadian ports without obtaining a coasting trade licence.
As a labour union that represents Canadian seafarers working in the Canadian seafaring industry, the SIU cannot support these amendments, because they actively undermine legislation in place to support the domestic Canadian maritime industry and Canadian shipowners.
We strongly support maintaining the current coasting trade waiver system, which already includes a waiver system for foreign vessels. This method ensures the fair practice of giving Canadian shipowners who employ Canadian seafarers the first right of refusal for any available work.
The SIU has previously stated that giving away cabotage rights to the European Union through CETA was an unnecessary concession that has the potential to cause harm to the Canadian seafaring industry.
Canada already has a liberalized version of maritime cabotage, and further relaxation of these restrictions, specifically those involving dredging and feeder services between Canadian ports, does not benefit Canadian shipowners or Canadian seafarers who depend on competitive Canadian labour and domestic market trade for their livelihoods.
Further to these issues are the specific concessions allowing both first and second registry vessels to gain access to the Canadian market. As announced by Minister Garneau, the proposed amendment to allow the movement of empty containers by any vessel, regardless of flag, was done at the request of one shipping federation in Canada, which represents very few or no Canadian-flagged shipping operators. While the SIU does not speak on behalf of Canadian shipowners, it is troublesome to us and our membership that the majority of proposals and concerns from Canadian shipowners and Canadian seafarers appear to have been ignored in favour of one organization representing global shipping agents in Canada.
The domestic maritime industry is a source of direct and indirect employment for over 100,000 Canadians. When discussing global shipping, it is important to distinguish that the Canadian vessel registry, or Canadian first registry, is much more advanced in terms of working conditions and requirements than the majority of global maritime flag states. Global shipping is a highly unregulated industry and one that has seen deteriorating labour and wage conditions define it increasingly over the years. For example, some first registries, and many second registries, are qualified by the ITF, the International Transport Workers' Federation, as being flag of convenience vessels. What this translates to is an underpaid and under-represented work force of mostly third world seafarers who work in an unsafe and unregulated industry with few to no working regulations in place.
In Canada, a maritime accident involving an FOC vessel could lead to months or even years of trying to track down the true owner just to begin the process of seeking compensation, which we know, through experience, is never actually achieved.
Second vessel registries are so under-regulated that a vessel registered in a second registry of an EU country is not even permitted to operate cabotage inside its own flag state. Allowing second registered vessels to operate cabotage inside another country's domestic market is not a common practice and not one Canada should be responsible for initiating.
This is a major global issue that has yet to be dealt with in a sufficient and acceptable way to secure the safety and well-being of all seafarers. To allow this sort of shipping to take place, unrestricted, inside Canada’s domestic maritime industry would be unprecedented. The SIU of Canada is actively involved in securing the rights of all seafarers working in Canada. We will work diligently to ensure that any foreign vessel brought into Canada to operate in Canadian cabotage is in compliance with federal standards of labour, and ensure that foreign crews are being paid the prevailing industry wage and being protected as stipulated by the temporary foreign worker program.
We remain concerned about oversight when it comes to foreign vessels operating in Canada. Establishing an effective monitoring and enforcement regime will be essential to ensure full compliance with the conditions and requirements of the new market access provisions of the Coasting Trade Act. In order for Canadian domestic stakeholders to remain competitive, there must be a system to ensure that foreign operators are strictly adhering to Canadian rules and standards, including labour standards and prevailing wage conditions for the crew, and not flag state law.
Again, the SIU's priority is to ensure that Canadian workers have opportunities for employment in the Canadian maritime industy. We believe the proposed amendments to the Coasting Trade Act contained in Bill C-49 undermine the importance of maintaining cabotage restrictions in place to protect Canadian maritime transportation, strengthen commercial trade, and maintain a qualified pool of domestic maritime workers. While securing employment opportunities for Canadian seafarers remains the primary mandate for the SIU, we also have a responsibility to ensure that all seafarers, both domestic and foreign, are properly treated. Canadian seafarers have an international reputation for being the most well-trained and highly qualified maritime workers in the world. As such, Canadian seafarers and Canadian vessel operators should reserve the right to retain the first opportunity to engage in any domestic maritime operations prior to permitting access to foreign operators.
We remain committed to working with our partners in government in order to establish a workable and acceptable solution to the growing amount of trade in Canadian ports. We believe Canada’s international trade ambitions can be achieved while supporting a strong domestic shipping policy that does not facilitate unrestricted market access to foreign vessel operators. Without a strong Canadian domestic fleet crewed and operated by Canadians, our country would be dependent on foreign shipping companies to move goods to, from, and within Canada, with no commitment to uninterrupted service.
On behalf of the Seafarers’ International Union, we once again thank the committee for having us here. I will close by saying that this is a very welcome change to be sitting at this table in front of the committee. We thank you for that.