Strike hits 30 BC ports

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by Emily Atkins

Workers at 30 British Columbia ports walked off the job on Saturday.

About 7,400 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) went on strike July 1, after giving strike notice on June 28th.

About 30 ports in BC, including Vancouver and Prince Rupert, are affected.

According to insights from marine traffic, currently there are 150-plus vessels in the port of Vancouver and another 55 vessels are scheduled. There are 60-plus vessels in the port of Prince Rupert and another 25 vessels are scheduled.

“The strike could have a significant impact on the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, which are crucial gateways for Canada’s foreign trade, especially with Asia. These ports handle a substantial portion of Canada’s imports and exports. The disruption caused by the strike can lead to delays, congestion, and inefficiencies in the movement of cargo, affecting various industries and businesses that rely on the smooth functioning of the supply chain,” said Christian Roeloffs, co-founder and CEO of Container xChange.

Talks between the union and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) continued, as the two groups try to come to a new agreement. The old contract expired on March 31, 2023.

The BCMEA said in a statement that it has “continued to advance proposals and positions in good faith, with the objective of achieving a fair deal at the table. Our bargaining committee has made repeated efforts to be flexible and find compromise on key priorities, but regrettably, the parties have yet to be successful in reaching a settlement.”

Issues on the table include contracting out, automation and cost of living increases, the union said in a release.

“The employers and their bargaining agent, the BCMEA have repaid our hard work and dedication with demands for major concessions. Their only objective is to take away rights and conditions from longshore workers after having gorged themselves on record profits during the pandemic.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Manfacturers and Exporters (CME)  immediately urged the federal government to intervene “to prevent further disruption to Canada’s supply chains and limit the impact on Canadians, who are bearing the cost of inflationary pressures. The government should immediately recall Parliament to pass back-to-work legislation to protect the livelihoods of Canadian workers and the health of Canadian businesses affected by disruption to the more than $800 million worth of cargo flowing through West Coast ports every single day,” said Robin Guy, the Chamber’s vice-president and deputy leader of government relations.

In a statement CME said: “The federal government must intervene… Disruptions like these threaten our members’ businesses, do damage to Canada’s global reputation as a trusted trade partner, hurt fragile supply chains, and cost jobs. Manufacturers, and the Canadian economy, cannot afford a strike at our largest and busiest ports.”

The union president, Rob Ashton, told the government to stay out of the conflict.

“Labour peace in this industry comes from government staying out of the business between a union and their employers,” Ashton said at a press conference in Vancouver. “The federal government must stay out of our business.”

“Drawing from past experiences, it is essential for both ILWU Canada and BCMEA to engage in constructive dialogue, demonstrating a willingness to address the main issues at hand,” Roeloffs offered. “Previous labour disputes within the maritime industry have demonstrated that a collaborative approach can lead to mutually beneficial solutions and a return to normal operations.”