Unionised dockers voted overwhelmingly for strike action on 9 and 10 June as talks between employers in Vancouver and Prince Rupert and the ILWU Canada faltered.
ILWU Canada president Rob Ashton issued a letter to the employers’ body the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) on 28 June informing both employers and government of the dockers’ intention to strike.
In a statement Mr Ashton accused the employers of holding staff in contempt: “Their only objective is to take away the rights and conditions from longshore workers after having gorged themselves on record profits during the pandemic,” he said.
Negotiations between the union and BCMEA began in February to renew the collective agreement which expired on 31 March with the major points of dispute being the contracting out of work to non-union labour, the impact of automation and wages in a high inflation economic environment.
Even though negotiations have broken down, the two sides will continue their dialogue with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in an effort to avoid industrial action.
However, union officials feel their members have been treated with disdain, with Mr Ashton pointing out that longshore workers had “worked in difficult and hazardous conditions” to keep the country safe during the pandemic.
He added: “This was an unprecedented time in the history of the world and the longshore workers stepped up and proved that we are here to support the people of Canada. It is unfortunate that our employers hold us in such contempt.”
The ILWU Canada Bargaining Committee has run out of options, with Mr Ashton accusing the BCMEA and its members of refusing to negotiate on the key issues, which has left staff with no other option but to strike.
Though the ILWU Canada says it remains open to meaningful negotiations to end the dispute and has called on the BCMEA to “get serious about negotiating with the union in good faith”.
Meanwhile the BCMEA also issued a statement claiming it had negotiated with a view to reaching a fair settlement. “The BCMEA has advanced multiple proposals and positions in good faith, with the objective of making progress and achieving a fair deal at the table.”
The BCMEA added that despite the “regrettable development” employers are ready to “re-engage with our labour partners through the federal mediation process, with the desire of reaching a fair and balanced deal at the table that keeps our ports stable and goods flowing.”
The port of Vancouver handled 3.55m teu in 2022, with some 15% of this freight heading into the US. In addition, the port handled 99m tonnes of bulk cargo and more than 333,700 cars, both down 3% and 6% respectively on 2021 figures.
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