By Leo Ryan, AJOT
Longshoremen unions representing marine industry workers in Canada are challenging new security clearance regulations ’ notably on human rights and privacy grounds - that will kick in on a phased basis in mid-December. The wind of rebellion is currently blowing at waterfronts across Canada, with the strongest protest actions being taken on the West Coast.
All told, the security regime elaborated by Transport Canada will affect some 10,000 dockworkers and other marine industry personnel by the time the second phase is implemented a year later.
Effective December 15, 2007, security clearances will be required by workers at the container ports of Montreal, Halifax, and Vancouver as well as at the ports of Fraser River and North Fraser River in British Columbia. The regulations will also be applied at the control centers in Canada of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The second phase will extend the program to the ports of Prince Rupert, Victoria, Windsor, Toronto, Hamilton, Qu’bec, Saint John and St. John’s ’ with the implementation date set for Dec. 15, 2008.
Transport Canada indicated in mid-September that the several thousand workers impacted in the first phase of the program have three months to complete the application process ’ or else risk being disallowed to enter port territory.
‘The program will further secure Canada’s ports against terrorist and organized crime activities while ensuring the continued competitiveness of our marine industry in an increasingly global environment,’ stated Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
The initial draft regulations had drawn widespread criticism from docker unions for allegedly trampling on basic individual rights. Following consultations, the amended measures contained improved privacy protection plus an appeal mechanism ’ but this has not been enough for the unions concerned.
In an interview, Tom Dufresne, president of the Canadian division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), declared, ‘The new regulations amount to a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act.’
Dufresne also charged that the regulations are ‘discriminatory’ against workers not born in Canada. ‘About 40% of our workers were born outside Canada and it could take between three and nine months for the proper documents to be processed.’
The union told its 3,500 members not to begin filing the required application documents. As a result, the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) filed a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) charging the union with virtually engaging in ‘an illegal strike.’
However, at a hearing in Vancouver on October 1, the CIRB declined to issue an interim order obliging the union and its members to change their approach. (Another CIRB hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20-21.)
Despite the tensions, Frank Pasacreta, outgoing BCMEA president, affirmed, ‘Relations are not acrimonious. Both sides are simply using the legal remedies available to them to support their positions.
‘From our point of view,’ he added, ‘the (federal) government addressed every issue when it amended the original guidelines. They are clearly less intrusive than before.’
In Halifax, Rob Bonner, president of Local 269 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), objected strongly to the fact that information required from applicants included details on past or current spouses and common-law partners. ‘Hey, our spouses, they are not working on the docks!’
Nevertheless, Mr. Bonner said, Halifax longshoremen are going through the application process while the union maintains a dialogue with port employers to find solutions in the event some dockers fail to get clearance.
On the Montreal waterfront, Bryan Mackasey, president of the Maritime Employers Association, reports that while ‘none of the longshoremen are filling out the forms yet, the docker union appears amenable to a deal.’
The Marine Transportatio