President, Canadian Labour Congress
2841 Riverside Drive,
Aug. 24th, 2016
I’m writing to request your help with a growing concern involving one of the Canadian Labour Congress’ affiliated members — the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW) union, representing most fishery workers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The issue involves potential conflicts of interest, and what many fishermen see as the warping of the FFAW from a union into a corporation, focused more with feeding itself than the fishery workers it serves.
The perceived conflict is two-fold.
First, the FFAW receives untold millions of dollars a year from various federal departments to administer/oversee various fisheries programs in the province, while, at the same time, the union is expected to hold Ottawa to account on its day-to-day management and overall policy decisions.
As a former Member of Parliament (St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, 2011-2015), and after receiving concerns from fishery workers/FFAW members around the province, I attempted to determine the amount/sources of federal money directed to the union in any given year by filing a series of questions on the Order Paper.
While some figures were revealed (the FFAW was paid almost $7.5 million alone between 2011 and 2014 to administer the Atlantic lobster sustainability measures program), I could not obtain them all.
But the obvious conflict undermines the faith of thousands of fishery workers in — not only their union — but the entire industry.
Normal checks and balances that accompany a union-management dynamic can be compromised when funds change hands between the two, potential negatively impacting the entire fishing industry. It’s also widely believed that the FFAW’s role in the fishery is evolving into one of management/administration, moving away from its primary union function.
The second potential conflict of interest I bring to your attention is a snow crab quota awarded to the Newfoundland company, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, in 1996.
In June 1995, Ches Cribb, then-Vice-President of the FFAW’s Deep Sea Sector, wrote the licensing division of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John’s requesting that the federal department give “priority access” to the developing offshore crab fishery to struggling deep sea fisherman.
According to correspondence obtained in recent months through the federal Access to Information and Privacy Act, that request was denied, but the very next year, in February 1996, Cribb made another request for a snow crab quote.
He made that request (which was eventually granted) — not as vice-president of the FFAW’s deep sea sector — but as president of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, the private company asking for the quota.
It’s not known whether Cribb still worked for the FFAW when he made the request on behalf of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, but some of the correspondence forwarded from the private company to DFO was done on FFAW letterhead.
As well, the company’s address — P.O. Box 881, Marystown, Newfoundland — was the same address as Cribb’s FFAW office.
The conflict of interest would appear obvious.
Further, in applying for an offshore snow crab quota, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters initially presented itself to DFO as a cooperative (“one member, one vote”), but that description would appear to be a misrepresentation. The company's crab quota has been renewed every since since 1996 and profits over that time (which have never been reported to the public) would be in the millions of dollars.
I present these two potential conflicts of interest to the Canadian Labour Congress because I have nowhere else to turn.
In July, I wrote a letter to Michael Ferguson, Auditor General of Canada, asking for his office to investigate Government of Canada funds distributed to the FFAW for potential conflict of interest, as well as the awarding of the controversial crab quota.
Mr. Fergersen’s office responded in early August to say that his office won’t get involved, although a copy of my letter was forwarded to the team responsible for auditing Fisheries and Oceans Canada, “for their information.”
Mr. Hussuff, this matter is of vital importance to the fishery of my province.
Fishermen cannot work in Newfoundland and Labrador unless they’re members of the FFAW. At the same time, many of them have lost faith in their union and fear speaking out because of retaliation from both the FFAW and DFO.
Would the Canadian Labour Congress be in a position to investigate the concerns outlined, or know who could launch such a probe?
A thorough review by an independent third party would help clear the air and restore confidence in a fishing industry perpetually in crisis.
Your input would be greatly appreciated.
St. John’s, NL