Nfld. & Labrador

Ryan Cleary says fishermen want him to set up a new union

A former MP from Newfoundland and Labrador says fishermen are asking them to help organize a new union that would be a rival to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union.
A former MP from Newfoundland and Labrador says fishermen are asking him to help organize a new union that would be a rival to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union. 2:26

A former MP from Newfoundland and Labrador says fishermen are asking them to help organize a new union that would be a rival to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union. 

Ryan Cleary says he's never seen fish harvesters so angry and disillusioned with the FFAW, which currently represents them.

"Over the past few months, I've gotten calls from fishermen right across the province, from the Northern Peninsula, from the northeast coast, from the south coast;" said Cleary, who represented St. John's South-Mount Pearl for the NDP before being defeated in last fall's election. 

"The common theme is that fishermen aren't happy with the representation. In a lot of ways, the fishermen see the FFAW as having evolved into a corporation, more concerned with feeding itself than looking after the fishermen it's charged with representing."

Cleary says fishermen have many reasons for wanting to break from the FFAW. He cites a recent lawsuit that scallop fishermen on the Northern Peninsula launched against the union over compensation money from Nalcor, which the fishermen won.

He said there are other complaints as well.

"I went and met last week with scallop fishermen down on the south coast, in Grand Bank. And they're upset they can't even get the FFAW on the phone. Fishermen are saying, 'We're paying union dues, but what are we paying union dues for?'" Cleary said in an interview. 

Fishermen from all over the province say they've had it with their union. (CBC)

"Then there's the conflict. There's the age-old question about conflict, about how the union can represent fishermen, plant workers and trawlermen at the same time, which is tricky, to say the least."

Move did not start with me: Cleary

Cleary is emphatic the drive to leave the FFAW isn't coming from him, although he does have an interest in taking part. He says fishermen want a leader who's independent from the influence of the union and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"The reason why they tell me they've asked me is because they fear repercussions from the FFAW or DFO when they speak out. I think what's going to happen is there's going to be a meeting in August and some decisions are going to be made on the way forward."

While the harvesters may consider him to be arms-length from the fishing industry, Cleary admits he's got his own longstanding issues with the way the FFAW is run.

"Questions of conflict of interest, when on the one hand, they receive untold millions of dollars from the federal government to help administer various fishery programs. But on the other hand, they're charged with holding DFO and the government of Canada to account for day-to-day policy and management decisions, and I question that potential conflict," he said.

Cleary broke with the NDP after the federal election in 2015, when he launched a failed campaign as a provincial Tory candidate in Virginia Waters-Pleasantville. 

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy is the former president of the FFAW. 

Cleary said he has written to the federal auditor general, requesting a review of possible conflicts within the union.

He said the movement to start a new union or association only for harvesters will be driven by the outcome of next month's meeting

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