Union ratifies BC ports deal

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by Emily Atkins

Members of the International Labour and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU Canada) have ratified the four-year negotiated tentative agreement with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) that was announced on July 30th.

The BCMEA ratified the agreement on July 31st. The agreement was reached after five months of negotiations, conciliation and mediation, and five weeks of labour instability at B.C.’s ports.

The deal was negotiated with the assistance of the Canada Industrial Relations Board after ILWU members voted down the agreement that had been negotiated on July 13th to end a strike by 7,400 members of the union at 30 BC ports, including Vancouver and Prince Rupert. After the union rejected the deal, the federal labour minister Seamus O’Regan decided to use his authority under section 107 of the Canada Labour Code to “preserve industrial peace” and directed the matter to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).

The union went on strike from July 1 to July 13.

After the strike action from July 1 to 13 had concluded with a tentative agreement between the ILWU Canada and the BCMEA, disruptions resumed on 18 July when ILWU Canada released a statement that their caucus had voted down the Canadian federal mediator’s recommended terms of settlement. This resulted in cargo operation shutdowns at the ports again on July 18 and 19.

A subsequent ruling by the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) resulted in labour’s return to work on 19 July, followed by ILWU Canada issuing a new 72-hour notice of strike action effective 22 July 2023. The union then retracted the 72-hour notice.

According to the BCMEA, the renewed collective agreement “includes increases in wages, benefits and training that recognizes the skills and efforts of B.C.’s waterfront workforce, while providing certainty and stability for the future of Canada’s West Coast ports.”

“All supply chain stakeholders must collaborate now to ensure we do not see disruptions like this ever again. Whether in Halifax, Montreal, or the Pacific Gateway, Canadians are relying on us – employers, unions, and the federal government – to keep goods flowing and ensure supply chain stability and resilience for the future,” the employers said in a statement.

“This dispute caused serious disruption to our supply chains, risking our strong international reputation as a reliable trading partner. We do not want to be back here again,” said federal transport minister Pablo Rodriguez and federal labour minister Seamus O’Regan in a statement.

O’Regan has called on federal officials to review how a disruption on this scale unfolded, with a view to preventing a repeat.