April 3, 2020
Fish harvesters and plant workers are raising the alarm on an aggressive push by fish processing companies to rush the opening of inshore fisheries in the province, despite serious concerns from workers that measures are not in place to ensure fishing vessels and processing plants can operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) cancelled a meeting with fish harvesters at the last minute yesterday and subsequently issued a media release calling for an opening to the crab fishery on April 20, despite the serious risks to health and opposition from harvesters and plant workers.
“ASP does not dictate when or if the fishery will open on April 20. It’s abundantly clear that these processing companies are putting profits ahead of people and are no longer interested in collaborating with fish harvesters and plant workers on best practices and protocols that must be in place before the fishery begins,” says Keith Sullivan, FFAW-Unifor President.
FFAW-Unifor and processing company representatives had been working together to develop best practices and common health and safety protocols for fishing vessels and processing plants in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This work abruptly ended yesterday when ASP walked away from the table and called for the fishery to open as soon as possible.
FFAW-Unifor elected snow crab committee members made the decision on March 24 to recommend a delay to the fishery until at least April 20, possibly longer, as they continue to re-evaluate the COVID-19 situation. FFAW-Unifor will recommend a further delay or closure if members are not safe at work.
Newfoundland and Labrador has the oldest population in Canada and the average age of fishery workers is older than the average age of the province. Most harvesters and plant workers are over 50 and a good number are in their 60s and 70s. As public health officials have made abundantly clear, COVID-19 is particularly harmful to older people, which is why harvesters and plant workers are demanding that companies prioritize and respect their health and the health of their families.
Plant workers, for snow crab in particular, suffer from high rates of respiratory illness that puts them at a greater risk and in an extremely vulnerable position if exposed to COVID-19.
Health Minister John Haggie and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald have said that Newfoundland and Labrador is only at the start of this pandemic, and already the province has one of the highest per capita rates of infection in the country.
“The vast majority of harvesters are prioritizing safety over the profits of processing companies. The worst of this pandemic is yet to come. We will not recommend an opening to the fishery if our members are at risk,” concludes Sullivan.
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Story originally posted on the FFAW-Unifor website.