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If doctors can choose whether to join medical association, fishermen should have choice with union

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

That's been the reaction of inshore owner-operator fish harvesters since news broke late last week that the province wants to remove the requirement that doctors must be members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA).

It's hard not to see that as a direct attack on collective bargaining when the news comes during contract talks between the medical association and the provincial government.

NAPE president Gerry Earle also came out swinging against the move, which he sees as an affront to the union movement.

It certainly looks that way.

Health Minister John Haggie has said the issue of removing the requirement that doctors must be members of the NLMA isn't connected to contract talks, but has to do with a legal action started years ago by the pharmacists' association.

Haggie also said the political challenge is "around freedom of association," and the only place to debate the issue is in the House of Assembly.

But some owner-operators say the issue of freedom of association should go for them as quickly as workers in the medical field.

Inshore harvesters have long asked for a clear answer to the question of whether it's mandatory for them to be members of the FFAW-Unifor, and whether they're legally obligated to pay union dues?

The union says yes.

When harvesters sell their catch to a fish processor/buyer union dues are automatically deducted from their pay and forwarded to the FFAW.

In a May 2017 letter, the union said its master collective agreement with the Association of Seafood Processors is binding on processors/buyers to remit dues to the union, and any failure to do so will be met with legal action.

Of course, that master collective agreement (a.k.a. contract) isn't voted on by the FFAW's membership, who also aren't allowed to strike.

But that's a whole other kettle of fish.

Clearly, if the province has an issue with mandatory membership of associations in the medical field, the concern should carry over to other sectors.

Ryan Cleary,


Independent licensed owner-operators are encouraged to join SEA-NL here. These blog posts will be public for a limited time, before becoming exclusive to the membership.

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