Member’s Profile: Robert (Bert) Farwell – Cook and social activist in the CCG

Bert has worked for the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) as a Ships’ Crew member for over 30 years. President of Local 20220 and very involved in all things UCTE, he also sits on the BC Regional Council, is a member of the SV Bargaining Team, North Vancouver Island Geographic Coordinator, Vice President of the North Vancouver Island Regional Council, and a member of the BC Region Health and Safety Committee.

Bert is a member extremely involved in the rights of Canadian workers. His dedication as a social activist began in the early 1990s. Disrespectful behaviour was noted in his local administration at the time. It was on the same year’s president Gillian Hillidge   suggested that Bert get involved in his local committee. He therefore began training to become a union delegate:

I wouldn’t lie to you that the first day I almost gave up. It was a very difficult course and I had no basis in the union world. On the second day, there was a click. I was very proud at the end of this course; I had successfully presented my first practical grievance case.

His interest in unions had always been there even before he joined PSAC. He had helped cooks at Pearson College United World College of the Pacific to draft a collective agreement. However, his trade union career began with UCTE as 3rd Vice-President to President in the mid-1990s of his local. He has been very active for more than 20 years now, he has always been elected local president. Bert updates himself on a regular basis on all the training available in the PSAC and is also a member of British Columbia’s Health and Safety Committee, a facilitator for the Join Learning Program (JLP) on mental health and a regional council member.

Last June he was elected to the SV Group negotiating team. Bert knows most of the team at the table this year and is very excited to be with them.

The last time I was not voted on at the bargaining table. For me, this is a great accomplishment. I have always wanted to represent the CCG ship teams at the bargaining table for a long time.

It all started in the early 1970s when Bert joined the military and chose cooking as his profession. Five years later, he decided to make a career change and left the military. A few years later the logistics supervisor contacted him, looking for a cook to work aboard one of their smaller ships.

Don’t get me wrong, I was seasick the first few days, but I made it. I was rehired in the early ’90s and have been working ever since, sometimes as a second cook baker and then as a chef, a position I still hold today, he says.

Among his duties, Bert is also responsible for supervising the kitchen team of up to five people. The importance of having a strong team is paramount. Creating meals with nutritious ingredients while at sea is a big challenge, as the necessary resources and ingredients are not always available.

I work a 12-hour lay day system for 28- to 42-day voyages depending on the ship I am on. I work a split shift from 05:30 until 19:00 and serve breakfast and lunch, a coffee break, and evening meals, providing healthy choices. On my ship, my second cook takes breakfast. So, the days are busy.

His job confronts him with all kinds of issues: he needs to be on top of diets and on the cutting edge of food trends. He is responsible for all kinds of tasks: maintaining and keeping fresh produce for long periods of time up to 2 weeks or more, dealing with long hours and stressful work, which can cause him problems, be away from home for a long time, sometimes not having access to the Internet or a cell phone to contact family or friends, or to deal with various situations that may arise. Bert has truly developed a great passion for the foods of the world, which he shares with his crew.

One of the best compliments I’ve received from a crew member: I offer him food from over 20 countries in a period of 28 days. He has loved every minute of it.

In short, Bert has always given his best to his work, a true passion for him. His work experience has formed him as an outstanding cook at sea. UCTE is proud to have him with us.

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