Innovative port labor practices urged
By Leo Ryan, AJOT
Canadian ports must not stand still despite capacity and other improvements in recent years that helped them to weather the 2008 recession. Rather they should pay special attention to addressing urgent infrastructure challenges and to possibly emulating European-style waterfront labour practices in order to remain competitive in the new world trade order. So urged two high-profile speakers at the late August annual conference of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA) which was staged in Hamilton.
Aerial view of the Port of Montreal (photo by Sylvain Giguere)
Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, declared: “One of the keys to our success will be our ability to arm ourselves with modern and competitive infrastructure. How will we be able to handle the projected increases in trade if our ports and transportation networks are unable to keep up with demand?”
He suggested that massive infrastructure investments overseas, including in such small economies as Vietnam ($170 billion in 10 years), “put our own efforts to shame. We’ve done some good work in promoting our gateways, but we need to do much more if we want to keep pace with the rest of the world and if we want Canada to be North America’s gateway to the world.”
Referring to slow growth in the United States and floundering European markets in the wake of the recession, he warned: “Not only are we faced with growing competition from Asia, but the economies of our traditional trading partners remain on their knees.”
While America will remain Canada’s largest trading partner by far, Canadian business has no choice but to diversify trade “and look for opportunities elsewhere, particularly in high growth markets.”
Beatty noted approvingly that Canada was currently in the midst “of one of the most aggressive trade expansions in Canadian history. He expressed the hope that a free trade pact being negotiated with the European Union – a market of 500 million consumers – will be achieved by the end of this year.
Otherwise, he recalled that Canada has yet to conclude a single free trade agreement in Asia.
For her part, federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt emphasized that “maintaining innovative and strong relationships between labour and management are key factors in ensuring a healthy and competitive marine industry.”
But to remain globally competitive, Raitt said the port industry in Canada must invest in the best technology and share innovations and best practices deployed by international counterparts.
In this regard, she cited a recent report by transportation expert Michael Ircha at the University of New Brunswick, comparing labour practices in Europe with those at the Port of Montreal.
“We are no longer looking at the casually-employed male, general labourer workforce of the past, but moving towards a more permanent, diverse workforce of multi-skilled professionals who have chosen to work in the maritime shipping industry,” Raitt said.
Port employees in Europe, Raitt pointed out, are being cross-trained so they can perform several tasks.
As the first female harbourmaster of a Canadian port (Toronto) a number of years ago, Raitt said she was well placed to testify that “women are a largely untapped resource in the port industry. The Port of Valencia, in Spain. for example, has had great success in hiring women to work as machine operators. They found that female operators have produced less wear and tear on the equipment – meaning longer-running machines.”
Raitt opined that such issues as physical strength requirements and safety at port facilities after hours for women could be addressed. In her view, “the benefits of increasing diversity can be directly tied to the bottom line.”