An Interview with the New President of the SIU Canada, Michael Given

Related: SIU Canada Elects New Executive Board

Q: As the new President of Canada’s largest seafarers Union, what is your message to SIU of Canada Members?

A: I would like to thank the Members of the SIU Canada for putting their faith in me and the rest of our newly elected Executive Board team to lead our Union into the future. Our Union is in a great position right now, and the unity across our Membership is incredibly strong. We feel very confident in the future of our Union, and with the support of our Members; there is no obstacle we can’t overcome. Our motto for the past several years has been that we are stronger together, and our Executive Board team truly believes in that. A Union is as strong as its Membership, and our Union is unified and ready to tackle any challenges that may lay ahead. We are a Union with a rich history, and we strive to be a Union that every one of our Members can be proud to be a part of.


Q: A lot of SIU Members already know you since you’ve been part of the Union for so long. However, for those who may not know you, what is your background, and what makes you qualified to be President?

A: I come from a family of seafarers. My grandfather, my father, and my brothers were all seafarers and Members of the SIU. I became an SIU Member and started sailing back in 1986. I loved every moment on board, and when the opportunity came to start working for the Union to help my fellow sisters and brothers improve their conditions on board, I knew I had to take it. I started working for the Union in 2002 as a dispatcher at the Thorold Hall. From there I worked my way up, with the support of our Members, eventually becoming the Vice President for the Great Lakes and West Coast. Most recently I served as Secretary Treasurer of the SIU for the past number of years. After 35 years of being a Member of our great Union, I know this industry inside and out. With a great Executive Team around me, we are ready for any challenge, and we are excited to continue our fight for Canada’s seafarers.


Q: What are your biggest priorities as the new President of the SIU Canada?

A: Our Union’s top priority has always been representing and standing up for our Members. Throughout the years of working for the Union, whether it was as a dispatcher, port agent, VP for the Great Lakes and West Coast, or Secretary Treasurer, my top priority has always been our Members and ensuring that they are well represented. That will continue to be our top priority in this new era of our Union. Our Members are what make up our Union, and as a representative of the Union, it’s my job to ensure their voices are heard by the companies, government, and the general public.

Another priority will be recruiting new seafarers to our ranks as we deal with labour shortages in the maritime sector. It is a difficult task to get new young recruits to see a life at sea as a viable career option, so it will take our whole team to come up with new creative ways to promote our industry to the next generation of seafarers. The pay is great, the conditions are great, and our contracts speak for themselves. It is up to us to ensure we market ourselves appropriately and make becoming a seafarer an attractive and sought-after career. I was recently appointed to the Board of Directors at the Canadian Marine Careers Foundation, which is a non-profit organization seeking to promote careers at sea to the next generation. Approaching this issue from a variety of angles will help ensure the marine sector continues to thrive.

I also plan on continuing the hard work done by the previous SIU Canada President in supporting the Coasting Trade Act and ensuring Canadian Cabotage is here to stay. Cabotage is what keeps Canadian seafarers and Canadian vessels on Canadian waterways. Without cabotage, we are powerless; so it is extremely important to ensure our cabotage regulations are upheld. We must also continue to fight against any threat that comes our way. We must continue to hold the federal government to account, and make sure the voices of seafarers are heard clearly in Ottawa.


Q: What do you think of the current state of the labour movement in Canada and internationally?

A: It’s apparent that there is a need for Unions across the globe. Workers at major corporations like Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple are starting to realize the power of Unionizing and the strength that workers have when they unite to fight for better conditions and workers’ rights. Unionization rates were on the decline for the past couple of decades, but we are now beginning to see a shift. Statistics Canada just released numbers on Canada’s unionization rates, and we are starting to see a move back towards unionization as people begin to see the power they have as a collective. We must continue to be a leader in Canada’s labour movement and show workers across the country that a united Union with leadership that listens to its Membership can accomplish great things.


Q: How do you plan on representing the SIU of Canada internationally?

A: The SIU of Canada has always played a major role in the international maritime industry. Our affiliation with the SIUNA, our American counterpart and founder of our Union which whom we still have a very close relationship, and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), which we work very closely with on international issues and where we hold a number of positions, are critical to our international advocacy. Our newly elected Executive Board will continue to rely on these strong relationships to continue to advocate for seafarers’ rights internationally. Being a leading maritime Union around the world means fighting for our Sisters and Brothers no matter where they are from, or what Union they belong to. We are all a part of the same seafaring family. If we are in a position to help others, it is our duty to do so. We will continue to play a role within the ITF and will continue working with our Sisters and Brothers representing Unions around the globe to fight for any and every seafarer.


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