Who We Are

SIU Advocacy

Testifying to Parliament

In April 2017, SIU President James Given appeared as a witness to testify before the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on their study of CETA.

In September 2017, SIU President James Given appeared as a witness to testify before the House Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities on their study of Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act.

In September 2018, SIU President James Given appeared as a witness to testify before the House Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities on their study of the Canadian Transportation and Logistics Strategy (Trade Corridors).

Working with the Government of Canada

Early in 2017, President Given met with Mr. Steve Verheul from Global Affairs Canada, the former chief negotiator for CETA and Canada’s chief negotiator for NAFTA. He also met trade officials as well as representatives from Transport Canada. In these productive meetings, President Given received assurance that changes under CETA will in no way allow EU shipowners to bypass the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, which would allow feeder services to operate between Montreal and Halifax. Foreign crew members onboard will have to obtain temporary foreign worker permits.

The SIU meets regularly with Federal MPs and Provincial MPPs as well as government officials from Transport Canada, ESDC, IRCC, and other related departments.

Regular Consultations

The SIU is regularly consulted and called upon for information regarding potential free trade agreements as well as potential changes to regulatory policy through Global Affairs Canada, Transport Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada. We work with our contacts in government to ensure that the voices of Canadian seafarers are heard and accounted for in any decisions being made in Ottawa.

The SIU is also part of numerous Government working groups and committees such as the newly formed LSAC (Labour Standards Advisory Committee) which is a tripartite committee including labour organizations, employers’ associations and government representatives that works on Federal Labour Standards through ESDC’s Labour Program.

Working with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

We also ensure our voice is heard internationally through our work with the International Transport Workers’ Federation, representing more than 19.4 million transport workers worldwide.

At the 44th Congress of the ITF in Singapore in October 2018, SIU President James Given was re-elected to the position of Seafarers’ Section Chair for North America. SIU Executive Vice-President Patrice Caron was also re-elected to the position of Seafarers Co-Chair for North America in the ITF Fair Practices Committee which is the joint Seafarers & Dockers section.

President Given is also Chair of the ITF’s Cabotage Task Force which has the role of developing and assisting global affiliates with their cabotage legislation and sharing best practices between countries represented through the Task Force. It is firmly held within the ITF maritime family that strong Cabotage laws and the fair treatment of seafarers go hand in hand and working to assist affiliates to gain greater control of their domestic shipping policy is an important goal of this task force.

Working with the Canadian Labour Congress

The SIU regularly participates in committee meetings, conference calls and roundtable discussions hosted by the Canadian Labour Congress to discuss a range of issues such as transportation regulations, free trade agreements, privatization and labour standards and political advocacy.

The SIU is represented on many of the CLC’s committees in Ottawa, including the Transportation, Privatization and National Political Action Committees.


SIU members have a storied history of grassroots labour activity and have never shied away from taking to the streets to demonstrate against injustices to all workers or to voice our opposition to threats to our industry.

In September 2015, the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada held a protest in Ottawa against CETA and to defend cabotage rights.

On January 12, 2017 the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada hosted a “Day of Action” for the Canadian maritime industry to “stand up and fight back” against the on-going government action harming Canadian seafarers. Simultaneous protests were held in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Victoria and St. John’s with members of the SIU Canada, ITF, ILWU, ILA and other maritime unions all standing up as one voice in support of the Canadian seafaring industry.


What Is Cabotage?

Cabotage, also known as coasting trade, is the transportation of goods or passengers between two places within Canada. In Canada, Cabotage Law is enforced under the Coasting Trade Act. Under Canadian law, foreign-flagged ships are not allowed to engage in cabotage. A foreign ship may be permitted to engage in cabotage in Canadian waters only if there is no Canadian vessel available. In order for a foreign ship to engage in cabotage within Canadian waters, a special Coasting Trade Waiver must be issued by the Canadian Transportation Agency. Cabotage Law also mandates that ships operating in Canadian waters must use Canadian workers, and can only use foreign workers if Canadians are unavailable.

Across the globe, Cabotage Laws play a role in reserving a nation’s maritime commerce for its own citizens. Cabotage Laws ensure the retention of skilled workers and well-playing jobs for the future of the industry. It allows governments to ensure that at least certain domestic trades are not conducted purely on the basis of lowest labour cost, and that minimum standards are protected.

In September 2018, Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI), a world-leading international centre researching maritime and seafarers’ law, published a ground-breaking survey identifying that ninety-one-member states of the UN, representing 80% of the world’s coastal UN maritime states, have Cabotage laws restricting foreign activity in their domestic coastal trades. Contrary to what some would believe, Cabotage laws are prevalent throughout the globe and are directly linked to stable, safe and profitable employment for thousands of seafarers internationally. Click HERE to read the entire report.

Strong Canadian Cabotage Law brings added economic value to the country. These can include significant extra revenue from trade in the wider maritime sector on shore, as well as the obvious benefits of providing jobs for our own seafarers.

Why Is It Important To Industry?

Simply put, Cabotage Laws are in place to protect the rights and jobs of Canadian workers. Cabotage Law ensures a uniform standard of quality across the industry, mandating that those participating in cabotage, abide by, and meet Canadian labour standards. The laws not only protect the rights of Canadian workers, they are paramount to preserving our marine environment. Foreign crews often aren’t sufficiently trained to operate vessels in Canadian waters, which increases environmental risk, as many of these vessels transport hazardous cargo such as crude oil.

Canadian Seafarers are trained through various universities and colleges both in Canada and the United States. Their training meets – and exceeds – International Standards, allowing Canadian Seafarers to boast as some of the best trained in the world. Vessels manned by SIU members have some of the best safety records in the world, resulting in lower insurance costs and greater reliability of operations for the employers but most importantly, for the protection and well-being of SIU members.

When a ship is registered in a country, it is subject to the laws and the country of its flag state, regardless of the nationality of the ship’s owner. Registering a ship under a Flag of Convenience (FOC) encourages tax avoidance since many FOC countries are tax havens and have lax registration requirements, like Panama. Seafarers pay the price in poor conditions and lower wages since labour laws in FOC states are substantially weaker than those in Canada. Further, ships registered in FOC countries do not require the employment of nationals, allowing ship-owners to seek out the cheapest labour, and contributing to downward pressure on seafaring wages.

What Have We Done To Strengthen Cabotage Laws In Canada?

As a union that represents Canadian seafarers working in the Canadian maritime industry, we fight every day to protect Canadian workers. We work to ensure they have opportunities for employment in the Canadian maritime industry. In addition, we remain opposed to any relaxation of maritime cabotage regulations, both in Canada and abroad.

While securing employment opportunities for Canadian seafarers remains the primary mandate for the SIU, we also have a responsibility to ensure all seafarers, both domestic and foreign, are properly treated, are working in safe conditions, and are paid prevailing industry wages while in Canada.

In September 2015, the SIU filed 42 lawsuits alleging that the Government of Canada was issuing work permits to the foreign crews of hundreds of foreign ships engaging in shipping in Canadian waters, despite the availability of qualified Canadian seafarers to serve on these vessels, which is contravention of immigration laws. In July 2016, the SIU filed an additional 13 lawsuits with similar allegations, forcing the Government of Canada to admit that it improperly issued work permits to the foreign crew members of the New England, a Marshall Islands flagged oil tanker that engaged in shipping in Canada.

The Federal Court granted SIU’s judicial review applications and set aside 11 work permits for the crew of the New England. The SIU was successful in reaching a settlement of the remaining outstanding 44 lawsuits with Employment and Social Development Canada.

The settlement was one of many major victories for SIU and its members.

During negotiations for the Canada-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Cabotage Law came under attack, as the government attempted to use it as a concession at the negotiating table. The Europeans essentially demanded unrestricted access to both EU first and second registry vessels to the majority of Canada’s cabotage market which would have caused great harm to the Canadian Seafaring industry.

In response, the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada mobilized across Canada, projecting their voice and reinforcing the strength of the union. The SIU stood strong, and stated that giving away cabotage rights to the European Union through CETA was an unnecessary concession that would result in great harm to the Canadian seafaring industry.

In an exceptional show of force, the SIU was able to secure a monumental victory for the rights of Canadian sailors. Though our demands were not entirely met, and some amendments were made to the Coasting Trade Act, the SIU played a large part in the fight to contain the concessions in CETA to only a small portion of the entire Cabotage market, ultimately solidifying the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada as the most important sailors’ union in the country.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program

About The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP)

The Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program is a Government of Canada program that allows employers in Canada to hire a foreign worker when no Canadians or permanent residents are available. In order to hire a foreign worker, employers must receive a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) from the Government of Canada. Employment and Social Development Canada conducts a rigorous assessment of factors, as set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, before issuing a positive or negative LMIA. The TFWP should only be used by employers to address their labour needs on a limited basis when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available.[1]

[1] “Backgrounder: Temporary Foreign Worker Program.” Employment and Social Development Canada. December 11, 2017. https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2017/12/backgrounder_temporaryforeignworkerprogram.html

Impacts Of The TFWP On Canadian Seafarers:

The temporary foreign worker program, together with the growing use of foreign flagged vessels in Canada, has cost the SIU more than 2,100 jobs to date. Between 2013 and 2018, the SIU estimates that more than 4,000 temporary foreign work permits have been issued by the Government of Canada for domestic shipping despite 25 percent of Canadian maritime workers being unemployed or underemployed over the course of those years.

SIU Believes That Canada’s TFWP Was Inappropriately Applied In The Canadian Shipping Industry

Up until September 2018, had the required Labour Market Impact Assessments for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program been assessed properly, the process would have indicated that there were Canadians, including our members, who were trained and capable to perform seafaring in the domestic shipping industry.

Cabotage Laws were violated under the TFWP by allowing foreign crews to operate in Canadian waters without first verifying if there were qualified Canadian/Permanent resident seafarers available to work. This clearly impedes the Coasting Trade ActConsequently, the mis-application of the TFWP in the domestic seafaring industry has caused a loss of good-paying Canadian jobs, and, has put the Canadian shipping industry at risk.

Legal Battles

In September 2015, the SIU filed dozens of lawsuits 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 crew members of hundreds of foreign ships engaged in shipping in Canadian waters.  In July 2016, the SIU filed an additional 13 lawsuits with similar allegations. In February 2017, our union was successful in reaching a settlement for 44 lawsuits with Employment and Social Development Canada (“ESDC”).

Testifying To Parliament

In May 2016, the SIU Canada submitted written testimony to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA), as part of the committee’s study of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Working With The Government Of Canada

In October 2017, the SIU contacted the federal department of Economic & Social Development Canada (ESDC) to report unfair labour practices aboard ships with permits for foreign seafarers. ESDC is a government body that enforces the rules of the TFWP. The department revoked the foreign workers permits aboard the ships engaged in labour abuse.

SIU Asserts That The Abuse Of The TFWP, Put Safety, The Canadian Environment And Job Security At Risk

Non-Canadian crews do not have local knowledge of our domestic waterways. By allowing foreign crews to operate in Canadian waters, this poses security risks as crews are often not properly vetted. This can allow foreign crews to enter with false documentation. Further, environmental damage can incur to the Canadian coastline and bodies of waters, as foreign crews are not trained to operate in Canadian confined waterways nor winter conditions. On top of this, should an accident occur, it would be very difficult for the Canadian government to take action against a ship owner whose identity is hidden through the FOC system.

Foreign crews are over-worked and often exploited with a $2 an hour wage, which infringes on Canadian labour law. This wage also diminishes the good paying seafaring jobs in Canada where wages reflect the training, local knowledge and experience that sets Canadian seafarers apart. Moreover, Canadian sailors in the shipping industry risk losing their skill set if domestic jobs are not maintained. Aside from diminishing wages and skill-sets, this depletes well-compensating maritime jobs.

To prevent further damage to the Canadian domestic shipping industry, the SIU of Canada – as part of the settlement of the lawsuit regarding the abuse of the TFWP – has been working with ESDC to develop and implement new policies specific to the use of Temporary Foreign Workers in the Canadian Maritime industry.

TFWP Maritime Sector Policy Officially Operational On September 11, 2018

Some of the highlights of this new policy include:

  • Every Employer or Canadian charterer importing a vessel into Canada’s Coasting Trade market for more than 30 days must obtain a letter of concurrence from the SIU indicating whether or not there are Canadian/Permanent Resident seafarers available for the position(s) for which an LMIA is being sought. The SIU coordinates this process on behalf of all the Canadian maritime labour organizations.
  • In any case where an employer seeks a subsequent LMIA, for the same position(s) that was approved for short-term duration (Under 30 days) within the same calendar year, regardless if the new request is for 30 days or less, will be subject to the standard TFW program requirements including obtaining a letter of concurrence and meeting minimum advertising requirements.
  • If a foreign worker is retained on board, employers must offer the same level and form of compensation as Canadians and permanent residents. The job offer must meet the median wage rate or higher for the duration of the Coasting Trade Waiver
  • Employers must provide an appropriate employment contract as per the Working Conditions Policy of the TFWP which must include: dates Canadian employment laws and regulations will apply, including total duration the vessel is operating under a Coasting Trade License; and details of wages and compensation to be paid, including frequency of payment and mechanics of supplementary monetary and non-monetary compensation.
  • For compliance purposes, employers must maintain comprehensive employment records that fully document payment of wages throughout the duration of the project.

More information can be found through the Service Canada website links below:





Trade Agreements

As Canada’s merchant navy, the Seafarers International Union of Canada, supports Canada as a strong trading nation. We are proud to ship goods to Canadians across our nation’s waters as well as offload the nation’s exports to be moved internationally. With strong cabotage laws,[1] our domestic shipping industry can thrive, and Canadian seafarers can continue to deliver the benefits of international trade.

There are certain trade agreements, or forthcoming agreements, that weaken Canada’s cabotage laws, and as a result, Canada’s domestic shipping industry. These include:

[1] Under The Coasting Trade Act, the only ships that have unrestricted access to maritime cabotage movements are those registered in Canada and either built in Canada, or if not, where the applicable import duty has been paid.

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic And Trade Agreement (CETA)

is a free trade agreement that was agreed to in 2016 and has been partially implemented since September 2017. CETA allows European Union beneficially owned vessels, some of which are Flag of Convenience (FOC) vessels and European National Flag vessels to engage in Coasting Trade without a license when engaged in (1) feeder services between the Ports of Halifax and Montreal, (2) the repositioning of empty containers and (3) some dredging services. Despite being exempt from the need to obtain a CTL, the vessel is still engaged in Cabotage and regular work permit and LMIA requirements apply to foreign crew members.

In a November 2018 stakeholders meeting, officials from Transport Canada Trade Policy have indicated that in the event of a hard BREXIT, Canada was preparing a Canada-UK Transition agreement which would see the majority of the CETA agreement, including the Maritime Chapter, applied between the countries in a post-BREXIT transition period.

Trade In Services Agreement (TISA)

is a services-trade only agreement currently being negotiated by 23 Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), including Canada. The negotiations were launched in March 2013 to further liberalize trade in services and the most recent round of negotiations took place in December 2016. The International Maritime Transport Services annex of TISA seeks to achieve greater liberalization, aspiring to respect “each party’s desire to protect against cabotage.” The SIU continues to monitor this agreement for any changes or potential further liberalization of the Canadian Cabotage laws.

Comprehensive And Progressive Agreement For Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)

is an agreement between the Pacific TPP-11 members countries that remained following the withdrawal of the United States in 2016. The CPTPP implementation legislation tabled in Parliament, Bill C-79, An Act to Implement the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, received Royal Assent on October 25, 2018. Canada is amongst the first six nations to ratify the agreement. The CPTPP does not contain a maritime services chapter and Canada’s maritime cabotage remains protected under Canada’s Annex II reservations within the agreement.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Replaced By The Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

On November 30, 2018, Canada, the United States and Mexico signed the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Argentina. Parties will now undertake their domestic process towards ratification and implementation of the CUSMA. Thanks in large part to strong advocacy from the SIU Canada and from our Brothers and Sisters in the Seafarers’ International Union of North America in the United States, maritime cabotage remains off the table entirely. Long-standing bi-partisan support for the Jones Act, coupled with unwavering support of the SIUNA and the Maritime Trades Department of the AFL-CIO have proved that political activism and advocacy are tantamount to success in defending cabotage legislation in the U.S. and because of this, maritime transport has never been on the table in any trade agreement ever negotiated by the USTR. In the new CUSMA, Canada’s maritime cabotage remains protected under Canada’s Annex II Reservation (II-C-7) within the agreement.

Canada-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement

Canada recently concluded exploratory discussion for a possible free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Though only in a preliminary phase, there is currently no offensive interests from Mercosur to Canada’s domestic shipping markets, nor has Canada expressed offensive interests in the Mercosur maritime market at this point in the negotiations. The SIU will continue to update and monitor discussions.

Canada And The Pacific Alliance

As one of the first countries invited to become an Associated State of the Pacific Alliance, Canada is looking forward to talks in January 2018 to negotiate a free trade agreement with Alliance members of the Bloc. The Pacific Alliance consists of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru and the Associated States of Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Canada. With bi-lateral agreements already in place with these countries, these negotiations would be a simple update to those agreements. There is a maritime chapter within the framework of the agreement however, it does not contain any market access to domestic Cabotage as this is an area of sensitivity for many of the negotiating partners.

Impacts To Canadian Seafarers

Trade agreements that weaken Canada’s cabotage laws often seek to permit foreign-flagged ships to enter Canadian waters with foreign seafarers. Between 2013 and 2018, the SIU estimates that more than 4,000 temporary foreign work permits have been issued by the Government of Canada for domestic shipping jobs despite some years where 25 per cent of Canadian maritime workers were unemployed. The growing use of foreign flagged vessels in Canada, together with the temporary foreign worker program, has cost the SIU more than 2,100 jobs to date.

  • Foreign crews are over-worked and often exploited with a $2 an hour wage, which infringes on Canadian labour law. This wage also diminishes the good paying seafaring jobs in Canada whose wages reflect the training, local knowledge and experience that sets Canadian seafarers apart. Aside from diminishing wages and skill-sets, this depletes good-paying Canadian maritime jobs.
  • Allowing foreign crews to operate in Canadian waters poses security risks, as crews are not properly vetted. This can allow foreign crews to enter with false documentation. Further, environmental damage can incur to the Canadian coastline and bodies of waters, as foreign crews are not trained to operate in Canadian confined waterways nor winter conditions. In such an event, ship owners operating vessels flying the flag of an FOC are often impossible to locate in the event of a marine accident.
  • Using maritime transport regulations as a bargaining chip at the negotiating table is an outright assault on the hard-working men and women of the Canadian maritime industry who work tirelessly to ensure that goods are moved to, from and within the Canadian market. The SIU is the only voice representing Canadian seafarers in Ottawa and our work to consult on trade deals and regulatory policy will always advocate in favour of the best interests of our members.