Canadian seafarers sue their government

The Seafarers’ International Union of Canada (SIU) has launched a lawsuit challenging decisions by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) to grant temporary work permits to foreign maritime workers crewing foreign ships operating in Canadian waters.

Canadian law requires that ships carrying passengers or goods between Canadian ports (cabotage) may only use foreign workers if no qualified Canadian workers are available.

“The Government of Canada has allowed foreign workers to take 2, 100 jobs from qualified Canadian maritime workers,” said SIU President Jim Given. “The Federal Government continues to misuse their authority to grant temporary work permits to foreign workers, while passing over Canadian sailors who are ready to work”.

The SIU lawsuit challenges the temporary work permits recently granted to foreign workers aboard the Sparto, an oil tanker sailing under the flag of convenience of Cyprus. Since the beginning of 2015, the Sparto has been granted permission 10 separate times to ship crude oil on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Gulf of St. Lawrence, between the Maritime Provinces and Montreal.

“The Government of Canada recently issued work permits to 16 foreign workers on the Sparto despite the law stipulating that temporary work permits can only be issued if qualified Canadian workers are not available. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the work permits should not have been issued and the termination of those work permits. Employment and Social Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada are named as respondents in the lawsuit,” the union explained.

Since 2013, approximately 4,000 temporary foreign work permits have been issued by the Government of Canada for domestic shipping. Approximately 25 per cent of Canadian maritime workers are currently unemployed, the SUI’s data shows.

“The Government of Canada is willfully ignoring the law and giving up on qualified, ready-to-work Canadian workers,” said Given. “We cannot sit by and watch while foreign workers are being given work permits and are paid as little as $2.00 an hour to work on ships in Canadian waters.”

The lawsuit comes on the heels of reports of another foreign vessel, the Amalthea, operating between Canadian ports with foreign workers paid as little as $2.00 an hour.

The SIU added that it has made numerous attempts to contact Federal Government officials around Ottawa’s failure to enforce immigration law in connection with issuing work permits to foreign crew.

“To date, no acknowledgement has been made and no action has been taken,” the union said. 

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