Harvesters and plant workers are struggling to feed their children and pay their bills, with some having been without income for over two months due to severe ice conditions that prevents the fishery from starting in many parts of the province. The situation has gone from bad to dire, and action in the form of income bridging from the federal government is long overdue.
Having gone without any income for over two months, many harvesters feel they are left with no other option than to risk their gear and their own personal safety in order to go fishing through pack ice conditions.
Glen Newbury, harvester from Green Bay, has been receiving calls from affected individuals in his area, where pack ice is so bad that no boats are able to risk leaving the dock. Newbury says, “People are in a desperate situation. Families that rely on the fishing industry who’ve had no income for months are stressed beyond belief, wondering how they’re going to put food on the table.”
Repeated calls by the FFAW, provincial government and affected individuals have resulted in the federal government acknowledging the situation, yet no action has been taken to provide income support.
“A family called me the other day whose last cheque was on April 18. They’ve got two children, one in university, and they’re just at a loss for what they can do to support their family until the ice lets up,” adds Newbury.
“The federal government has the responsibility to assist these individuals who are unable to work due to severe and persisting ice conditions,” says FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan. “These people want to be working but we are experiencing some of the worst ice conditions we’ve seen in recent memory.”
Trudy Byrne, plant worker on the Northern Peninsula, says last year the plant began operations in April. Now into June, the situation is grim. “Families are in dire straits. I’m receiving calls from lots of individuals begging for work or information on what can be done. Once boats can even get out, it doesn’t look like we’ll be close to having enough hours this season to qualify for EI this fall since the crab season is so short,” says Byrne.
“Some harvesters in this area are taking the risk to go fishing, and they’re damaging their boats and risking their own lives doing it. That’s how desperate things have become and it’s not right. There should be support from the government in times like these where people are desperate to be working but are unable due to no fault of their own,” Byrne added.
In 2007, the federal government set aside $7.9 million for a special income bridging program in areas affected by the heavy ice conditions that spring. Similar programs were implemented in 1974 and 1990 when unusually heavy ice conditions caused a delay in the start-up of the fishery.
FFAW is in regular communication with federal and provincial officials, however individuals are encouraged to continue contacting their MPs.
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