By George MacVicar
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
The Burin Peninsula had one message for the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government and the politicians who represent the region – stand up with us to fight for our primary resource, the fishery.
Upwards of 500 fish plant workers, inshore fish harvesters, trawlermen, municipal leaders, businesspeople, clergy and local residents filed into the Marystown Hotel and Convention Centre in late February to support the workers’ loss of jobs, maintaining of fish quotas for residents and keeping the local fish plant intact.
The South Coast District Labour Council organized the forum, called an ‘Open Mic’ session.
President Julie Mitchell said “the community has come together. These are the faces of real, living people not just numbers and not just (corporate) profits.
“Our fight continues and I call on all of you to contact your MHAS because they are part of the decision making.”
The forum featured a presentation by Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union president Earle McCurdy entitled ‘Fishery at a Crossroads.’ He outlined the history of the fishing industry on the Burin Peninsula over the past 30 years to the point where businesses want to take the corporate fishery of today out of the plants and hands of Newfoundlanders and move it overseas.
He said Ocean Choice International, aided by the federal government, wants to model the deep sea and inshore fisheries after that adopted in the country of New Zealand.
“There, the New Zealand Government has set up an inquiry (into the fishery) because of concern about damage to New Zealand’s reputation caused by allegations of slave labour aboard Foreign Chartered Vessels (FCVS) – fueled by cheap Asian labour.”
Local Marystown chair Allan Moulton insisted “Marystown workers should not have to sacrifice their jobs for standing up for the fishery,” after being asked to support the processing of quotas at sea and then on to overseas’ markets.
He said the workers are not looking for a “racket, but a solution for the long term future of the fishery.
“As Earle (McCurdy) suggested earlier ‘It’s political intervention and political will is where the solution will be found.’”
Long time Marystown plant employee (34 years) Theresa Power told the gathering she was “disappointed and disgusted” area MHAS Clyde Jackman and Darin King (also Fisheries Minister) had not shown to the meeting.
“What’s more important? Jackman’s silence is shameful. The only time we hear from him is in the media and in a childish manner.”
Power suggested the only help the provincial government is offering senior workers at the plant is 14 weeks work to qualify for EI.
“Where can we find a decent job, competing with young people? Not on the Burin Peninsula.
“How can a company (Ocean Choice) be so cold and treat us like this?”
She pleaded with the government to support the workforce and stop any further exemptions on fish quotas, an action the fisheries minister has taken in recent weeks.
Roman Catholic Parish Priest Fr. Steve Courtney told the forum he knew first hand the importance of the fishery to the peninsula. He noted he had worked in the fishery himself.
“The industry (and its quotas) belongs to the people of the province.
“I’m tired of seeing our family and friends leave the province for work. It’s corporate greed that has brought the industry down.”
Moulton encouraged Premier Kathy Dunderdale to offer the industry and its workers the type of support she was party to in 1982, when the Burin fish plant closure had been threatened with closure.
He quipped “It was this stand in Burin the Premier said launched her (political) career.”