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Canada port worker strike talks between unions and employers break down

Photo: ILWU Canada Facebook page ILWU-Canada-picket-from-ILWU-Facebook-page.jpeg
Negotiations in the Canadian west coast ports dockworkers strike have broken down between the unions ILWU Canada and employers BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA).

Over 7,000 dockworkers in British Colombia walked out on Saturday including at the main gateway ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert with the action expected to bring significant disruption to Canada’s supply chain and beyond.

The existing contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU Canada) and the BCMEA expired at the end of March and talks between the two sides have failed to reach agreement since then. ILWU Canada members voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action in early June and a strike was called last week starting on Saturday.

Negotiations continued at the weekend but on Monday the BCMEA issued a statement saying: “The BCMEA has continued to advance reasonable proposals and positions in good faith with the urgent objective of making progress, reaching a fair deal, and ensuring ports are open and supply chains are stable and reliable. Rather than work towards an equitable deal, ILWU Canada seems to have entrenched their positions. The BCMEA has gone as far as possible on core issues.”

Responding the ILWU Canada strongly urged the BCMEA to come back to the negotiating table. “We implore the BCMEA to get back to the table to achieve a fair and reasonable agreement that the parties negotiate together. It is unrealistic to think that a collective agreement that is imposed will result in long term labour stability in the industry.”

The BCMEA said that the ILWU’s demands for compensation were “unreasonable”. It noted the median salary for an ILWU Canada dockworker in 2022 was C$136,000 per year, plus pension and benefits, and that member wages had increased approximately 10% over the last three years during the Covid pandemic.

The ILWU Canada countered that the member employers of the BCMEA had enjoyed record high profits for years, particularly during the pandemic.

“The Union did not take the position that gorging on massive profits was unreasonable, but we did take the position that it is reasonable for the workers that helped to achieve those record profits in the first place to have a fair and equitable share of them,” it said.

The BCMEA also accused the union of seeking to “aggressively expand their scope and re-define Regular Maintenance Work” far beyond an industry agreement that had been in place for decades.

The union meanwhile said it had been raising the issue of the “rampant contracting out of maintenance work for years” and was seeking to stop the erosion of jurisdiction and extensive use of contractors.

The two sides would appear to be locked in their respective positions with the BCMEA stating: “ILWU Canada needs to decide if they are going to continue this strike with no hope of settlement, or significantly modify their position so a fair and balanced deal can be reached.”

The strike is seen as impacting not only Canadian importers and exporters but also having a “domino effect all the way up to Asia and to the US, impacting majorly the automobile, container, breakbulk and project cargo business sectors”, warned Container xChange.

In the case of Prince Rupert the strike impacts two of its seven terminals - Fairview Container Terminal and Westview Wood Pellet Terminal, and as a result two vessels were at anchor unable to discharge. As of 6 July the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority reported 60 vessels offshore or at anchor waiting to berth at Port of Vancouver terminals. The port noted that tot all 60 vessels offshore or at anchor are affected by current labour action: bulk grain vessels, cruise ships and coal vessels bound for Westshore are unaffected by current labour action.

Christian Roeloffs, Co-founder and CEO of Container xChange, said: “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.”