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Labour minister asks mediator for terms to end B.C. port strike

The federal labour minister says he has given a federal mediator 24 hours to send him recommended terms to end the British Columbia port strike.

On Tuesday evening, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan — who is in Vancouver with federal mediators trying to break an impasse at the negotiating table — said that a good deal was “within reach” for both parties after more than a week of negotiations to end the strike that started on July 1.

“After 11 days of a work stoppage, I have decided that the difference between the employer’s and the union’s position is not sufficient to justify a continued work stoppage,” he wrote in a statement.

O’Regan said Tuesday evening he has asked the senior federal mediator to send him a written recommendation on the terms of the deal within a day.

WATCH | What the B.C. port strike means for Canada: 

labour minister asks mediator for terms to end b c port strike

What the B.C. port strike means for Canada

4 days ago

Duration 3:45

Workers at ports across B.C. are on strike. We break down why it’s happening and what it means for you and for Canada’s economy.

“Once I have received the terms of settlement, I will forward them to the parties, and they will have 24 hours to decide whether or not to recommend ratification of the terms to their principals,” he said.

Some 7,500 dock workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) walked off the job on July 1 after failing to agree on a new wage deal with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA).

The union says the BCMEA is refusing to give a fair pay increase despite making billions of dollars in profits in recent years. The association says it is negotiating in good faith while blaming the strike for damaging trade and the economy.

Issues like the cost of living, port automation, and outside contracting were the main points of contention when ILWU workers went on strike.

In statements late on Monday, both sides blamed each other for failing to reach a new deal. The association said its proposals to address ILWU Canada’s demand to expand the union’s jurisdiction over regular maintenance work on terminals were rejected by the union.

A seabus passes containers sitting idle on the dock at the Port of Vancouver.
A commuter Seabus passes idle containers during a strike by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) at Canada’s busiest port of Vancouver on July 11, 2023. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Rob Ashton, ILWU Canada president, told CBC News that the union would withhold comment until they had seen the mediator’s report. A spokesperson for the BCMEA also declined comment Tuesday night.

The two parties met in person for the first time in more than a week on Monday night, a government source not authorized to speak on the record said

They were joined by Senator Hassan Yussuf, a former president of the Canadian Labour Congress who helped negotiate an end to one of the largest public sector strikes involving Canadian federal workers in April and May, the source said.

“The scale of this disruption shows how important the relationship between the BCMEA and the ILWU is to our national interest. We cannot allow this work stoppage to persist and risk further damage to the relationship between these parties,” O’Regan said.

Impact being felt internationally

Maritime employers say the impact of the strike in B.C. is being felt internationally, as U.S. port workers refuse to handle containers rerouted from Vancouver to Seattle, according to reporting from the Canadian Press.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union International president Willie Adams told CNBC last week that members of the U.S. West Coast chapter of the union won’t be unloading Canadian-bound cargo in solidarity with the striking workers in B.C.

A line of workers hold up sandwich boards reading 'I.L.W.U. on strike against B.C. Maritime Employers Association'.
International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers picket in Prince Rupert, B.C. on July 5, 2023. (Carolina de Ryk/CBC)

Adams told a rally in Vancouver on Sunday that anyone who thought they could offload Canada-bound cargo at Tacoma, Seattle, Oakland or Los Angeles should know that it “ain’t happening.”

The strike has upended operations at two of Canada’s three busiest ports, the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert — key gateways for exporting the country’s natural resources and commodities and bringing in raw materials.

World’s top fertilizer maker cuts output

As a sign of these issues, the world’s biggest fertilizer producer, Nutrien Ltd, cut production on Tuesday, citing the impact of the strike, whose cost has now ballooned to an estimated $5.5 billion in Canadian dollars.

A man in black overalls stands amid sand-coloured pyramids of potash.
A worker at Nutrien’s Cory potash mine in 2019. On Tuesday, Nutrien announced it is reducing operations at the Cory potash mine due to a loss in export capacity because of the British Columbia port strikes. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Nutrien blamed the Port of Vancouver work stoppage for lowering export capacity at its Cory potash mine in Saskatchewan and warned of further production impacts if the walkout is prolonged.

The strike also saw tangible impacts in British Columbia, with Canfor Pulp announcing they would curtail production at the Northwood Pulp Mill in Prince George on Thursday due to the walkout.

The curtailment is set to affect 475 employees, according to Canfor spokesperson Michelle Ward, who says a skeleton crew will be in place when the curtailment occurs.

A business with a sign reading 'CANFOR'.
Canfor says it regrets the curtailment of its pulp operation in Prince George, but the company had no choice. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“We’ll start the process to curtail the mill [Wednesday] evening and it will be fully curtailed on Thursday,” she said. “When we’re able to restart the mill, employees will be brought back to help with the process.”

Canfor CEO Kevin Edgson said the company was unable to ship 70 per cent of their products to Asia as a result of the strike.

It could trigger more supply-chain disruptions and fuel inflation, economists have warned, just as the central bank is trying to cool the economy. The Bank of Canada is widely expected to raise its key interest rate on Wednesday by 25 basis points to five per cent.

The strike so far has cost an estimated $5.5 billion Cdn, based on industry body Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters’ calculation of about $500 million Cdn in disrupted trade every day.

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