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Fishery fiasco: labour board NOT investigating buyers paying less than ‘binding’ price for snow crab

That’s not what Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg told owner-operators in late June when a seafood processor attempted to pay them $2.22/lb+ less than the “binding” price of $6.15/lb. Paying even a cent less would undermine the government system that sets fish prices in this province's $1 billion-plus fishing industry, but Bragg apparently misspoke about an investigation by the labour relations board.

Petty Harbour snow crab fleet earlier this spring.



Bragg had this to say in an e-mail Monday evening:


“When I questioned staff, I was told it was against the bargaining agreement. (Labour) Minister (Bernie) Davis is responsible for the price setting panel not our dept., although we get the blame. Therefore, I left it up to the FFAW and their legal team to address. I have not been made aware of any harvester who signed the agreement.”

Unlike other unions, fishermen/women represented by the FFAW do not vote on the master collective agreement between the union and processors.


The inshore fleet also doesn't vote on prices set by the government-appointed price-setting panel, which are “binding.”


So Bragg is correct there, but his general response is ridiculous, and reason enough for Premier Andrew Furey to consider another mini summer cabinet shuffle.


Green's Seafood Ltd., whose crab is processed by Quinlan's plant in Bay de Verde, distributed this agreement at the end of June for owner-operators to sign before the company would buy their crab.



The above document stated that owner-operators agreed to a "service fee" of $2.22/lb (plus HST) for services such as the supply of ice, offloading, discharging, freight, and logistics.


The cost of such "services" are normally included in the price paid to the inshore fleet, and appeared to be a way around paying the $6.15/lb "binding" price imposed by the province's price-setting panel on May 16th.


That would be a clear violation of the fish price-setting system, which has been in place since 2006, and would undermine the entire set up.


SEA-NL wrote about it here: Too cute by half; processor still pays $6.15/lb for crab (minus $2.22/lb plus tax for ‘services')


TRIP LIMITS ALLOWED UNDER CONTRACT

Early into the spring snow crab season owner-operators were put on trip limits and fishing schedules to slow down landings, which raised safety concerns in terms of boats feeling pressured to fish in questionable weather.


Turns out trip limits are actually allowed in the master collective agreement between the FFAW and processors.


Fishing schedules may also be permitted under Section 8, which reads: “For the purpose of the efficiency and compliance with statutory obligations, a Processor has the right to make reasonable rules and regulations not inconsistent with this agreement.”


Does that section also give processors room to impose fees for services that were always included in the price of a particular species?


It seems only the FFAW can answer these questions, and the fact the province has left it to the union to quietly answer them is simply not good enough.


Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

To read more about SEA-NL, or to join the non-profit organization please visit sea-nl.ca

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