More than 7,000 dock workers representing the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada officially began striking after labour contract negotiations with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) fell through.
According to Reuters, the anticipated work stoppages are likely to cause significant disruptions at two of Canada’s busiest ports, namely the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert.
As a result, the overall Canadian economy is expected to be impacted.
The union’s strike was officially announced in a Facebook post on 1 July signed by Union President, Rob Ashton.
In spite of the overwhelming 99 per cent of ILWU registrants who voted in favour of the strikes, the call to mobilise was yet made reluctantly, according to Ashton.
“The ILWU Canada Longshore Division has not taken this decision lightly, but for the future of our workforce we had to take this step,” Ashton affirmed in the post.
“We are still hopeful a settlement will be reached through FREE Collective Bargaining!”
The main issues hindering the progress of negotiations between the two parties include automation, cost of living for workers, and the use of contract work, reported CNBC.
The ILWU Canada is thus negotiating to block the outsourcing of work while limiting the utilisation of port automation.
The union is actively working to protect the livelihood of dock workers by countering their vulnerability and preserving their indispensable role in port operations.
According to Ashton, the union has been keen to cooperate with the BCMEA to arrive at a deal since February 2023. Ashton, however, accused the BCMEA of being unwilling “to bargain a fair and balanced Collective Agreement”.
Despite these allegations, the BCMEA said in a statement that it has continued to “advance proposals and positions in good faith, with the objective of achieving a fair deal at the table.”
“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,” the statement continued.
The statement acknowledged the significance of federal mediators and expressed willingness to explore “any” solution that can lead the parties to a fair agreement, including the option of mediated arbitration.
Ashton reportedly remains vehemently against any federal involvement, however.
“The federal government must stay out of our business… If the BCMEA gets their way, and their way is to let the (federal) government make the collective agreement for them, there will never be labour peace on the waterfront,” Ashton told Reuters reporters.
Following an uninterrupted negotiation session lasting 33 hours, the two parties “temporarily” halted their talks on 2 July evening, as stated by the union.
The discussions are set to resume on 3 July, according to Reuters.
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the potential consequences of the walkout on Canada’s economy and small businesses are significant.
If the strike persists, it will exacerbate price pressures, coinciding with the Bank of Canada’s renewed efforts to raise interest rates and stabilise inflation within the 2 per cent range, Reuters reported.
North American Unions have taken a collectively defiant stand in support of ILWU Canada.
The Head of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents West Coast port workers in the US, made a declaration of solidarity with ILWU Canada, while the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) has announced its refusal of taking diverted cargo from ports with workers on strike.
According to CNBC, concerns regarding port congestion have arisen as a result of these strikes, as longshoremen may not be able to unload ships effectively.
This may further spark backlogs in pickups from terminals, which ultimately translate to late fees at the expense of the consumer.
Paul Brashire, Vice President of drayage and intermodal at ITS Logistics said: “With the Canadian holiday and July Fourth holidays, the volume of containers moving are lighter than normal but now vessels are not being worked because of the strike.
“If this strike continues into the middle of next week, it will impact congestion in the coming weeks at Chicago and Detroit rail terminals because of the amount of containers that would have built up and eventually moved to those rail terminals,” Brashire added.
Moreover, another influencing player to have an impact in such affected North American supply chains is the Panama Canal and its unprecedented levels of drought.