The SIU of Canada is proud to be a Union that is run by seafarers, for the benefit of seafarers.
A message from the leader of Canada’s largest seafarers union.
The SIU of Canada prides itself on standing up for our Members while holding government to account. Learn more about our advocacy and the team that makes it happen.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Impacts Of The TFWP On Canadian Seafarers:
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.
Testifying To Parliament
Working With The Government Of Canada
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.
TFWP Maritime Sector Policy Officially Operational On September 11, 2018
Some of the highlights of this new policy include:
More information can be found through the Service Canada website links below:
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, 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:
 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.
Trade In Services Agreement (TISA)
Comprehensive And Progressive Agreement For Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Replaced By The Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)
Canada-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement
Canada And The Pacific Alliance
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.