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“Canadian seafarers and Canadian vessel operators reserve the right to retain the first opportunity to engage in any domestic maritime operations prior to permitting access to a foreign vessel operator.” This was the message delivered to Canada’s Parliament by SIU Canada President and MTD Eastern Area Executive Board Member James Given during testimony before the House Transportation Committee in September on yet another piece of proposed legislation to attempt to further deregulate Canada’s maritime cabotage laws.

Similar to the Jones Act in the United States, in Canada any domestic maritime operations involving the movement of cargo or passengers between two points in Canada is reserved for Canadian-flagged and Canadian-crewed vessels. These regulations are enshrined in a long-standing piece of legislation known as the Coasting Trade Act.

 The year 2017 was a difficult and long year of defending cabotage legislation in Canada. While not all battles were won outright, there were some great victories for the Canadian marine industry and Canadian mariners.

While the Jones Act has received long-standing bipartisan support in the U.S., which has resulted in a strong commitment from the U.S. Trade Representative to protect maritime cabotage in trade negotiations, the Canadian government used concessions in maritime cabotage to entice the European Union (EU) into signing the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement.

For the first time in history, vessel operators from EU countries now will be permitted to perform very limited operations previously reserved for Canadian vessels without having first to obtain a Coasting Trade Waiver from the government. While disheartening, the SIU Canada is content that we were able to influence this policy enough to contain the amendments to the cabotage regulations to only certain, very specific activities in which there was little Canadian content to begin with.

While the Parliament of Canada currently is considering other potential changes to the Coasting Trade legislation and actively is pursuing free trade agreements with nations in the Asia-Pacific and South America, the SIU Canada has become the primary voice defending Canadian seafarers and the Canadian maritime industry. Our voices are being heard in our work by all levels of government. We are proud to say that with our intervention no maritime cabotage has been traded away during the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks – a huge victory for Canadian shipping.

Canadian Parliamentarians from all political parties know the importance of maritime cabotage and the good-paying middle-class jobs that the SIU Canada fights to protect. While disagreements over policy do occur, there is no denying the important role that strong domestic shipping policy has in supporting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Canadians in an industry that has a national economic impact of more than $30 billion dollars, contributes $3 billion into Canada’s GDP and is a substantial source of benefits for both regional and local economies in indirect spinoffs.

The SIU Canada is also proud of our work over the last year alongside our partners in the government to develop a new maritime policy for the use of temporary foreign workers aboard foreign vessels operating in Canada. Under the new guidelines, foreign seafarers will not be granted work authorization in Canada without the prior approval of the SIU Canada. If allowed to work in domestic trade, they will receive all rights extended to them under Canadian labor law including wages, hours of work, overtime and other benefits.

This new policy will greatly deter the ability of any foreign shipowners to undercut Canadian shipowners and Canadian seafarers. This policy ensures that Canadians are given priority consideration for jobs on ANY vessel trading in Canada as foreign companies will be required to employ Canadian seafarers in any cabotage operations. This is a monumental victory for our industry and our mariners.

We know that we are not alone in our fight to protect cabotage laws. The SIU Canada is both proud of, and thankful for, the work done by our Brothers and Sisters in the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO and its affiliates. The Jones Act and the protections it affords domestic mariners in the United States remains the shining example by which all other maritime nations are able to leverage their own domestic maritime policies. There is no stronger piece of maritime legislation than the Jones Act.

Without the Jones Act and the MTD to help guide us forward, the seafaring industry and, most importantly, the men and women who defend Canada and move our goods to and from market would be stuck in a race to the bottom.

As always, we are stronger together.