I am sorry to say we've decided we can't pursue this as a story after all (at this stage), because most of the people employed on the ship are and apparently will be Canadian and/or First Nations.
I apologize if you feel your time was wasted. We had to prioritize stories for the fall and the consensus was not to pursue this one.
CBC Go Public
Dear Honourable Chris Alexander, P.C., M.P.,
I am writing to complain about what appears to be an abuse of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, on the Latvian flagged ship, Motor Vessel (MV) Silja Festival, currently operating in Kitimat, British Columbia. The ship is a non-Canadian vessel, but has been granted a waiver from the Canada Coasting Trade Act, issued by the Canada Transportation Agency (http://www.otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/ruling/229-w-2014). This large foreign ship and its non-Canadian maritime officers have been operating in Canada Since early 2014, and is expected to continue operating for an estimated 2 years, supporting the est. $4.8 billion upgrades to the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Kitimat, BC.
The Estonian managers of the MV Silja Festival, HT Laevateenindus, through a Vancouver law firm, Bernard LLP, have posted numerous “Help Wanted” advertising on differing medium, principally the WorkBC website this past summer, and again in the fall, on Workopolis.ca (and others), in search of qualified marine personnel, principally Deck and Engineering Officers. The terms for the positions advertised are considerably lower than the Canadian market currently offers. In my particular case, I estimate that it represents a 55%-60% cut in wages.
A ship is a big, complex machine and needs many skilled people to operate. On the MV Silja Festival, the people working on deck, in the engine room, and in the “hotel” are called ratings or catering staff – typically “lower skilled” labour. The Officers are in charge of the ship’s operations in the Engine Room (Engineering Officer) and on Deck (Navigation Officer), and the ratings in these departments; the most senior Deck Officer is the Captain or Master. Maritime Officers are highly trained and vetted individuals who typically spend about 10+ years in professional training to become officers. It is my understanding that catering staff, and some rating positions are supposedly filled by Canadians on the MV Silja Festival.
I am one of those Engineers; a Transport Canada Certified Marine Engineering Officer with 18 years of shipboard experience, including 4 years on large passenger ships. I hold the correct certification, and have relevant experience to be able to work on this vessel, in particular as Engineering Officer of the Watch, such as what they advertised they were looking for. I am also qualified to perform additional roles advertised. I submitted my application to Ms. Catherine Hoffman, at Bernard LLP, on June July 26th, 2014, as directed in the advertisement found on the WorkBC website, which ran from June – September 2014. I have not received any reply, or acknowledgements since.
From discussions with peers, I have positively identified four other qualified Maritime Officers that have applied for the various Deck and Engine Room positions (despites the significant disparity between terms offered and the Canadian norms), and they also have not received any replies from their applications. I, and my peers, are of the opinion that this is false advertisement with no intentions of hiring qualified Canadian maritime officers, in an effort to satisfy various governmental “due process” requirements. We believe the true motive is to maintain the lower paid foreign Engineers and Navigation Officers onboard, presumably, to increase profits for the non-Canadian ship owner.
I am of course very upset about this situation. It is not acceptable to our family, because it is work I could be doing in my home province – I currently have to fly out of province to support my family – my spouse and our three young children, ages 9, 7 and 5. The wages offered undercut my ability to compete in my chosen profession – an already demanding and difficult profession - despite an extensive and burdensome investment in training and certification on our part.
I am not afraid to compete internationally, and I have in the past. However, these foreign officers received tax break in their home countries (not to mention, lower cost of living), which tax breaks are not applicable to professional Canadian seafarers working internationally. I suspect they do not pay Canadian income taxes either, despite benefiting from Canadian taxpayer funded infrastructure while working in Kitimat – such as hospitals, roads, WorkBC website. Without a similar tax burden, these foreign officers are therefore able to dramatically undercut my wages and conditions, not to mention, this ship directly removes work from Canadian companies and their employees. There are very few words I can use that can adequately describe my feelings of this unacceptable situation.
I request and expect that you will look into this matter with utmost expediency, and provide an explanation as to why this situation is allowed to continue. Attached, is my resume for your information, similar to the one I submitted to Bernard LLP. I am quite willing to back all of my claims with names and relevant documentation.
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