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The Government of Canada Must Invest in Canadian Seafarers to Alleviate Supply Chain Issues

Article Featured in the March 2022 Issue of The Canadian Sailor

As Canadian negotiators and the department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade prepare for upcoming negotiations on a Canada-U.K. Trade Agreement, Canadian workers across the country must sit back and hope for a positive result. As is often the case, working women and men are forced to take a back seat to a trade deal that could have major ramifications on their respective industries, with little insight or knowledge about the impacts and compromises made until the deal is signed and the agreement is solidified. 

At the negotiating table, concessions are often made at the last minute, and often these concessions are to the detriment to the working class. With a great deal of attention being paid to supply chain vulnerabilities and potential improvements, the transportation sector, including the thousands of Canadian seafarers and SIU Members that move the goods and supplies Canadians use every day, are at risk of being a bargaining chip in Canada’s negotiating strategy. As your Union, our goal is to ensure that our collective voices are heard by Canadian negotiators as they move forward with this new deal and our solution to supply chain issues is not investment in foreign shipping, but the exact opposite. 

The Coasting Trade Act and Canada’s cabotage system, which is critical to Canada’s seafarers and their livelihood, is assessed as a potential bargaining item with almost every trade agreement that surfaces. Despite the pleas that labour organizations make to the government every time the topic arises, we must make the same argument and remind negotiators of the same facts with every new negotiation. Canadian transportation workers depend on Canada’s cabotage regime. It is the only system in place that provides security and safety for our nations supply chain and without it, opens Canadian waterways, skies and highways to international companies that pay workers pennies on the dollar, operate with little to no oversight, and is the root cause for a humanitarian crisis at sea that has been devastating international transport workers and seafarers for years. 

Cabotage in Canada keeps our transport workers on the job and defends Canadian workers from unfair competition. International companies that would be allowed to operate in Canada without cabotage would effectively dismantle our supply chain as we know it, increasing reliance on foreign shipping and trucking, and would put hundreds of thousands of hard-working Canadians out of a job. 

Supply chain vulnerabilities are at the forefront of the minds of many who deal in imports and exports with the Government of Canada, especially after the COVID-19 Pandemic exposed the weaknesses with the structure of supply chains around the world. SIU of Canada Members are well aware of these issues and our Union leadership has been making it clear to the Government of Canada that the solution to these problems is not increasing reliance on foreign shipping, but rather increasing our domestic capabilities and investing in Canadian seafarers to do the job. We know that by increasing our own national ability to transport goods to our ports, we reduce our dependency on foreign shipping and foreign companies who see events like a global pandemic as an opportunity to increase container costs, which intensifies supply chain issues. 

It is also clear that greater cooperation is needed by all sectors in the transportation industry, especially between the marine, trucking and rail sectors to help each other and collaborate on ways to help improve the efficiency of cargo movements throughout the country. If there are a backlog of trucks waiting to pick up containers in a port, increasing short-sea shipping could help to divert some of that backlog and speed up the process. This would help to avoid the situation we have seen in Vancouver and outside of Montreal in recent months, where container ships are anchored for weeks outside the port waiting for their turn to unload, due to the containers not being able to be moved out of the port quick enough.

The SIU of Canada will be making an official submission that details some of these solutions and recommendations to Transport Canada in light of their recent creation of a Supply Chain Summit and will continue to ensure that we are at the table for all decisions made regarding the marine sector. Investment in our Members and in Canadian shipping is the obvious solution, and we hope to see this position become cemented in policy.