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Foreign Shipyards: Worker Repression & Corporate Subsidies

BC Ferries and the provincial Liberal government are actively promoting the purchase of new ships and the refitting of the existing fleet by foreign shipyards.

Exporting jobs and investment out of British Columbia makes no financial sense. It will hurt our economy, our shipyard industry and its workers.

But BC Ferries' wrong-headed approach also rewards foreign countries that are severely repressing their workers as well as paying dramatically lower wages coupled with poor working conditions.

At the same time, these countries are subsidizing their shipbuilding industries to create unfair competition for BC shipyards.

Four main areas control 90% of the world's shipbuilding: Japan, China, South Korea and the European Union.

South Korea, China, Germany and Finland are the major potential suppliers of ships to BC Ferries, which has repeatedly solicited bids for ferry construction from foreign countries.

But South Korea and China have been repeatedly criticized by Amnesty International for the harassment, arrest and detention of trade unionists attempting to exercise basic labour and human rights.

Are countries that jail workers the sort of suppliers that BC Ferries should be doing business with?

Meanwhile, Germany, Finland, Spain and other European countries are subsidizing their shipyard industries to gain international business, as are South Korea and China.

The European Union not only allows members countries to subsidize shipyards by up to 6% of the total value of a ship, but also permits “research and development” funding to assist shipyards.

And both Germany, Finland and Korea provide state-guaranteed loans at preferential rates to shipbuilders or financial guarantees.

Detailed information below on the terrible situation facing workers in South Korea and China and their shipbuilding industries shows why BC Ferries should be building new ships and refitting its fleet in British Columbia , not foreign countries.

Other countries understand the benefits of promoting and supporting their own shipbuilding industries – what's wrong with the BC Liberal government and BC Ferries?

Worker Repression in Foreign Shipyards

Conditions for workers

 From the Amnesty International 2003 Annual Report

 “The dramatic rise in labour disputes continued. Among issues sparking protest were low wages, corrupt management, mass layoffs, dangerous working conditions and restrictive working practices in factories.

Many protests were met with excessive use of force by police, resulting in casualties. Protestors were detained and harassed, and some were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

Lawyers and journalists who defended protestors or publicized the protests were intimidated or arrested.

The revised [trade union] law still severely restricts workers right to freedom of association and expression, and independent trade unions remained illegal.”

Chinese workers averaged 2,287 hours worked per year, compared to 1,600 to 1,800 for Canadian workers, according to an International Labour Organization study.

 Is it any surprise that China's leaders are confident that the country can overtake Asian shipbuilding rivals South Korea and Japan by 2015? Chinese shipbuilding output has more than doubled in recent years.

 South Korea: Conditions for workers 

From the Amnesty International 2003 Annual Report

 “Harassment and arrests continued of trade unionists who organized strikes and demonstrations to protect their basic rights….. At least 170 trade unionists were arrested, including trade union leaders charged with calling an “illegal” strike action and “obstructing company business”.

South Korean workers averaged 2,447 hours worked per year, compared to 1,600 to 1,800 for Canadian workers, according to an International Labour Organization study.

With repressive rules and state subsidies, South Korea has become the world's leading shipbuilding nation – 43% of all ships on order are being built in South Korea.


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