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SIU urges federal action plan to immediately vaccinate Canadian seafarers



Mr. Renato Battisti, who for almost 10 years held the position of chief cook on board several Desgagnés ships and more recently on board  the Damia Desgagnés, died as a result of a fierce fight against Covid-19 last April.

The Seafarers’ International Union of Canada (SIU) is demanding a meeting with the federal Minister of Health and an immediate action plan to vaccinate Canadian seafarers’ against COVID-19 or risk a total stoppage to the Canadian shipping industry. The SIU represents 15,000 marine workers.

After countless attempts to get direct answers from provincial health officials, the Union is warning of dire consequences to the Canadian economy if the shipping industry is forced to shut down due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The federal government must step in now to ensure the flow of critical goods continues.

A recent outbreak of COVID-19 on board the CSL owned Atlantic Huron, which saw 18 of 25 crew members test positive for the COVID-19 virus, has highlighted the complete disregard that provincial public health units have shown for those working in the maritime sector, and unfortunately demonstrates just how quickly the virus can spread through a ship’s crew despite precautions already in place, the SIU said. A number of those infected that are developing more serious symptoms have been taken to hospital, alone and thousands of kilometres from their home.

The SIU of Canada, along with other marine sector labour organizations have issued multiple letters, the first being sent on December 17, 2020, to all provincial public health officials across the country, pleading for a plan to vaccinate seafarers against the COVID-19 virus.

Not a single adequate response has been given, and no such plan to vaccinate seafarers has been put forward. The Union is now being forced to consider all options including pulling all seafarers in its membership off of their ships and forcing the Canadian shipping industry to a halt if a concrete plan is not developed immediately to vaccinate Canadian seafarers and address what is becoming an increasingly unsafe work environment for all workers across the sector. The health and safety of those onboard Canadian vessels is being jeopardized by the lack of action by governments across the country and the Union is prepared to do what is necessary to help protect its membership against the COVID-19 virus.

James Given, President of the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada, declared: “The provincial health officials have made it abundantly clear that they do not have a clue how our industry operates, or how seafarers who all reside in different provincial and local jurisdictions can get a vaccine.

“We have made every possible attempt to try to get answers as to when and how seafarers will be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the answer of ‘wait and see’ will no longer cut it. With seafarers constantly sailing across provincial lines, the logistics need to be determined immediately as to how they plan to vaccinate these essential workers.”

“The provincial governments, the federal government, and the public health officials across the country are letting our seafarers down. If a plan is not developed immediately, the Union will be forced to take dramatic steps to ensure the health and safety of our members.” Photo: SIU