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Port strike will have ‘dire’ effect on supply chain: BC Chamber of Commerce

President Fiona Famulak urges government action if strike, now in its fifth day, continues
Striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada workers picket at a port entrance in Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, July 4, 2023. The strike at more than 30 British Columbia ports entered its fifth day on Wednesday after 7,400 port workers walked off the job on the weekend. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The president of the BC Chamber of Commerce Wednesday (July 5) has joined the chorus of business leaders calling for a speedy resolution of the strike affecting more than 30 B.C. ports, including the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert.

Fiona Famulak, president and chief executive of the BC Chamber of Commerce, called on International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the BC Maritime Employers Association to resume negotiations.

“The continued shutdown of Canada’s busiest and third busiest ports, where as much as $800 million worth of cargo is moved daily, is untenable,” Famulak said. “Every day the job action remains unresolved increases impacts on Canadians, businesses and our economy. Without swift resolution, this strike will become dire for every organization that relies on international supply chains to produce, supply and sell goods or services.”

Famulak also addressed her appeal to the federal government, which has been working with both sides through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

“If negotiations do not bring resolution to the labour action, the federal government must act with urgency to facilitate an end to the strike,” she said.

Famulak’s appeal is the latest in a series of appeals from leading business organizations inside and outside of British Columbia.

More than 7,000 workers went on strike Saturday night following months of negotiations, which have gone from difficult to non-existent.

BCMEA issued a statement on Monday (July 3) that “a continuation of bargaining at this time is not going to produce a collective agreement” in calling on ILWU to change course. “Rather than work towards an equitable deal, ILWU Canada seems to have entrenched their positions,” it reads. “The BCMEA has gone as far as possible on core issues.”

ILWU responded on Tuesday (July 4) by saying that BCMEA is “deaf to the real and legitimate concerns of the (union)” in accusing BCMEA of misrepresenting the union’s position on the question of who gets to do maintenance work.

BCMEA has said that ILWU wants to expand the scope and definition of maintenance work while ILWU has accused employers of failing to properly use union members.

ILWU also used its statement called on BCMEA to return to the bargaining table, while also proposing to meet directly with employers.

Transportation Rob Fleming said during an unrelated event in Greater Victoria Tuesday (July 4) that the issue is a federal one, adding that the provincial government had hoped that both sides would have reached an agreement. 

“This disruption is huge to a number of economic sectors in B.C.,” he said. He praised both sides for excluding cruise ship and grain traffic from the dispute, but expressed hope that the dispute would be resolved as quickly as possible.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said Tuesday on social media that federal mediators continue to support BCMEA and ILWU in their negotiations.

“We encourage both parties to immediately return to the bargaining table and remain there until a deal is reached,” he said. “Collective bargaining is hard work but it’s how the best, most resilient deals are made.”

The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest, home to 29 terminals operating in 16 municipalities across Metro Vancouver. According to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the responsible federal agency, the port handles $1 of every $3 of Canada’s trade outside of North America. As a gate to 170 countries, the port sustains 115,300 jobs, $7 billion in wages and $11.9 billion in GDP across Canada.

Here are some key facts in the dispute:

* The union represents workers who load and unload cargo at terminals at more than 30 B.C. ports, including Canada’s busiest, the Port of Vancouver.

* The association represents 49 private-sector employers and its website says the industry contributes $2.7 billion to Canada’s GDP while handling roughly 16 per cent of the country’s total traded goods.

* The union’s previous contract expired at the end of March after negotiations aimed at reaching a new deal began in February.

* In early June, union members voted 99.24 per cent in favour of authorizing strike action if required.

* Workers walked off the job Saturday and contract talks stalled Monday, with the union saying the employers had changed their position on a key issue.

* A statement from the union on Tuesday said the key issue holding up a deal is the contracting out of maintenance work by employers. It said the employers’ association and its member companies had refused to agree on a regular maintenance document that is complete except for one sentence.

* The employers’ association said Monday that it didn’t believe more bargaining would produce a deal and said the union was being unreasonable when it came to compensation.

* The union has previously said contracting out, port automation and the cost of living are key issues in the dispute.

— The Canadian Press

READ ALSO: Railway puts temporary embargo on Vancouver, on day five of B.C. port strike

READ ALSO: Strike could cost $250 million per week, experts say, with consumers taking a hit too

READ ALSO: B.C. port strike talks are deadlocked over maintenance, both sides say


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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