The evolution of fish trades associations and their changing role in the collective bargaining process in Newfoundland and Ladrador

Grant, Paul G. (2003) The evolution of fish trades associations and their changing role in the collective bargaining process in Newfoundland and Ladrador. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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In the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the evolution of Fish Trades Associations and their Union counterparts has been greatly impacted by the historic relationship between the processing sector and the harvesting sector. Processors, or merchants as they were traditionally referred to, have gone through a cycle over the past 60 years or more from holding tremendous power over fishers through what was known as the truck system, to today's environment characterized by legislation aimed at protecting the independence of fishers. -- The fishing industry has also undergone widespread change since the late 1940s when saltfish was king and the frozen fish sector was in its infancy. Since then the frozen industry has become the dominant sector. Until the early 1990s cod was the primary species, but since the decline of cod stocks throughout the 1980s and early 1990s and the resulting closure of the Northern cod fishery, shellfish had become the dominant sector. Trade unions have become a significant factor affecting all aspects of the conduct of the fishery from price issues with buyers to international issues such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) stock regulations and foreign overfishing. Processor associations on the other hand have seen their position of power erode beginning with the collapse of Newfoundland Associated Fish Exporters Limited (NAFEL) and its exclusive right to market saltfish, to the Fisheries Association of Newfoundland and Labrador's (FANL) inability to gain accreditation as the sole bargaining agent for all processors in the Province. -- There are many notable milestones in the evolution of processor and harvester organizations. Included in these milestones are the formation of the first fishermen's benevolent organization, the Society of United Fishermen (SUF) in 1873, the formation of the Fishermen's Protective Union in 1908, the formation of the Frozen Fish Trades Association (FFTA) in 1944, the formation of the UFFA WU, the predecessor to today's FFA W, and introduction of the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act in 1971 as a means of governing the collective bargaining between the harvesting and processing sectors. There have also been other significant events that have influenced the development of the fishery and have also impacted on both the harvesting and processing sectors in a significant way. These events include Newfoundland joining Canada in 1949 and the resulting change in jurisdiction over the harvesting sector away from Newfoundland to Ottawa. Following the change in jurisdiction came the introduction of fishermen's Unemployment Insurance to the Province. Other significant policies have evolved including the Federal government's Fleet Separation Policy which prevents processors from controlling licences for vessels under 65' LOA. -- Although groundfish stocks have collapsed and no recovery is in sight, the value of the fishery is now higher than it has ever been in the past. Today's fishery has evolved into one that is dominated by shellfish, primarily snow crab and shrimp. These species have yielded significantly greater economic benefits to participants and have afforded the harvesting sector the opportunity to significantly increase its power base within the industry. While many fishers remain at the low end of the economic ladder, fishers with access to crab and shrimp are generally better off than they have ever been. In fact, many of these fishers have developed their businesses into multi-million dollar enterprises. -- The collective bargaining system in which raw material prices are determined has serious flaws which place processors at a serious disadvantage to fishers. Fishers remain independent and have the ability to sell their product to those local firms who offer the highest price. While this has always been the system, problems in the crab and shrimp sectors associated with it have been masked by increased quotas since the moratorium on cod was announced in 1992. While the number of processing licences has increased 3-fold since then, so has the resource base. However, we are now seeing significant reductions in the abundance of crab and processors have been pitted against one another as they compete for sufficient raw material to maintain businesses in which they have invested so heavily. -- The most immediate issue facing the processing sector is the high cost of raw material generated by the increased competition. Fishers are now able to demand unprecedented prices from processors who are competing with long-established processing companies, as well as new entrants to the fishery for sufficient raw material to viably operate their plants. Plants are unable to vertically integrate their businesses by buying harvesting licences. The Fleet Separation Policy which was introduced by the Federal Government in 1976 prevents processing companies from owning licences for inshore vessels, except those which were "grandfathered" when the policy was implemented. -- As with any system that favours or appears to favour one group or another, pressure gradually mounts for change and the political opportunity to make the change. Perhaps it is time for change to the fishing industry collective bargaining system and to Federal and Provincial fishery regulations. Many of the regulations currently in place are aimed at protecting the independence of fishers from large processing companies, but it appears that processing companies may be in jeopardy by the ineffectiveness of these rules and regulations. History has played a large part in shaping the current regulatory regime, but perhaps the system has outlived its usefulness. However, given Newfoundland and Labrador's continued reliance on the fishery for the survival of many rural communities and the lack of prospects for employment generation in other industries, it is recognized that change won't come easily. -- The future role in collective bargaining of Fish Trades Associations such as FANL, which represents the majority of the processing capacity in the Province, continues to evolve. FANL continues to push for accreditation and the right to negotiate a maximum price for raw material for the entire industry. Until processors and fishers can negotiate on an equal footing the collective bargaining process currently in place will continue to generate problems for both sectors. While the industry continues to experience serious problems relating to raw material price and distribution, it is difficult to see a future role for FANL that does not involve collective bargaining. Negotiating raw material prices for the thousands of fishers and the plants they sell to will remain an important task. It remains to be seen what changes are implemented to the collective bargaining system and the timing of these changes to make the system less problematic for the industry as a whole.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 10570
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references.
Department(s): Marine Institute
Date: 2003
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Fish trade--Government policy--Newfoundland and Labrador; Fish trade--Newfoundland and Labrador; Fishers--Labor unions--Newfoundland and Labrador; Fishery processing industries--Newfoundland and Labrador.

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