Western ports in Canada are closed again
The Canadian branch of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on Tuesday rejected a proposed settlement with a federal mediator over a four-year wage deal agreed with employers last week. As a result, Canada’s western ports – including key intermodal hubs in Vancouver and Prince – were closed again. Previously, due to a strike by around 7,400 dockers, they were closed from 1 to 12 July.
The strike continued concurrently with the negotiations until July 12, when Canada’s Federal Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan stepped in and directed a government-appointed mediator to come up with a settlement proposal. The next morning, the ILWU and the British Columbia Marine Employers’ Association (BCMEA) announced a tentative agreement and said work would resume immediately. Indeed, the Vancouver terminals reopened the same afternoon.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, 18 ILWU Canada president Rob Ashton said the agreed deal “was far too long, did not provide sufficient job security protection given the uncertainties in the industry and economy, and did not fully compensate for the increase in the cost of living.” For this reason, the longshoremen will return to strike, Ashton announced. The main points of contention are wages and job allocation. ILWU says terminal operators are taking their jobs by bringing in outside contractors. By contrast, the BCMEA says the union is trying to expand its jurisdiction. “We regret to inform you that ILWU’s internal leadership rejected the tentative agreement before it was even voted on by the union,” the BCMEA said in a statement.
The union’s decision to walk away from the initial deal drew condemnation from the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, the region’s main business association. The management estimates that the problem of delays in transshipments due to the previous strike affected goods worth approximately USD 8 billion, and each day of downtime means delays in the handling of goods worth USD 600 million.
“In less than two weeks, businesses across Canada faced shortages, resulting in temporary layoffs or, in some cases, complete shutdowns. Continuing the strike will put these companies at risk again,” said Bridgitte Anderson, president and CEO of GVBT.
The BC Chamber of Commerce called the dispute and new port closures “unsustainable” and advocated using “every resource” to quickly end the dispute. Danielle Smith, premier of BC’s neighboring province of Alberta, called on the government to “recall Parliament and pass a law for these workers.”
Two years ago, the Parliament of Canada managed to quickly end a similar strike in the Port of Montreal.