ILWU Canada strike begins on Canada Day...July 1st
In a job action which will potentially have a significant ripple effect on the Canadian economy and trade with Asia, the union representing 7,400 terminal and port workers in 29 ports in British Columbia walked off their jobs early today for an unspecified duration – coincidentally on Canada’s national holiday. The strike on Canada’s West Coast comes two weeks after a crucial tentative deal was reached at US West Coast ports.
The estimated C$800 million worth of goods which flow through BC ports each day represent roughly one quarter of total Canadian imports and exports. The largest volume of this trade, both bulk and container, passes through the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, respectively the number one and third-ranked ports in the country.
Without Contract Since March 31st
The International Warehouse and Longshore (ILWU) Canada had given the required 72-hour notice of a strike call last Wednesday unless negotiations produced an agreement with the BC Maritime Employers Association by the July 1 deadline. The region’s dockers have been without a contract since March 31, 2023. Key issues revolve around port automation, contracting out, and cost of living amidst the current high inflation environment.
“We have been working around the clock at Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services since 8 am on June 30th to avert a strike,” declared Rob Ashton, President of ILWU Canada. “The ILWU Canada Longshore Division has not taken this decision lightly, but for the future of our workforce we had to take this step. We are still hopeful a settlement will be reached through FREE Collective Bargaining!”
The longshore union indicated its willingness to continue negotiations while the strike was in progress.
For its part, the BCMEA stated: “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.”
If the labour conflict drags on for more than a few days, Canadian business circles will be applying considerable pressure for the federal government to directly intervene – an intervention that could potentially take the form of back-to-work legislation and binding arbitration.
In the meantime, industry reaction has come swiftly.
On the heels of concerns expressed late last week by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and other industry associations, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business today evoked the “serious consequences for our economy and our small businesses. Port operations must remain fluid so as not to exacerbate supply chain disruptions and put further pressure on costs, at a time when we are still facing high inflation. CFIB is calling on the government to ensure that port operations are maintained, and that negotiations continue in order for both parties to find an agreement as quickly as possible. While it is good news that grain vessels will continue to be serviced and that the union intends to service cruise ships during the strike, it's clearly not enough.”
Fertilizer Canada has urged the two parties “to promptly come to an agreement to avoid a devastating shutdown of the West Coast Ports. The Port of Vancouver is especially critical to overseas shipments of potash fertilizer. The transportation of fertilizer and its application rely on careful timing and any interruption can jeopardize crop yields and global food security.”
According to the agri-food industry association, Canada exports 95% of its potash production to global markets - with the majority flowing through the Port of Vancouver. Potash is reportedly second only to gold in export value, contributing about C$5.52 billion to GDP annually. Over 75 countries rely on Canadian fertilizer. Canada is the top producer of potash fertilizer in the world followed by Russia and Belarus.
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