B.C. port workers’ union open to negotiating as federal intervention looms

Nabil Anas
Nabil Anas

Global Courant
The union representing about 7,400 workers in the ongoing British Columbia port labour dispute has issued a letter to employers, outlining what it is looking for in a new collective agreement while saying it is committed to negotiating a resolution.

The Sunday letter comes a day after federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan announced he is directing the Canada Industrial Relations Board to determine if a negotiated deal is still possible in the month-long dispute and, if not, to impose an agreement or final binding arbitration on the two sides.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) members rejected a second tentative deal Friday evening, placing more than 30 port terminals and other sites back in limbo once again after strike action earlier this month stopped operations for 13 days in key ports like Vancouver, Canada’s largest.

ILWU President Rob Ashton said in the letter that the workers “look forward to resuming discussions and finding common ground for the betterment of the Canadian supply chain and the livelihoods of its workforce.”

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Ashton said, however, that while a deal voted down by union members Friday included “progress … in addressing certain workforce-related matters,” it did not provide protection for port workers as more maintenance work gets contracted out to third parties.

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More than 7,400 unionized employees at more than 30 ports along British Columbia’s coast are off the job in a labour dispute that concerns, among a number of issues, how automation will affect the future of work at vital maritime gateways for Canadian imports and exports. The CBC’s Nick Logan explains.

“We are deeply concerned that, if unchecked, this practice will lead to an erosion of our workforce and expertise, ultimately jeopardizing the stability and efficiency of Canada’s maritime industry,” wrote Ashton.

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The union said employers must “regulate the extent of maintenance work that can be contracted out” and provide more “joint efforts” and “open feedback” with workers to improve employees’ safety and well-being.

Several political and business groups have called on Ottawa to end the port workers’ dispute with back-to-work legislation. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Calls for back-to-work legislation

The letter comes as the union’s latest rejection spurred calls for intervention from a number of business and political leaders. Parties including Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, the Business Council of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business all urged the federal government to legislate an end to the dispute.

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O’Regan said in his statement Saturday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s July 19 decision to meet with the incident response group — a move typically reserved for moments of national crisis — showed “the Government is prepared for all options and eventualities.”

“The state of uncertainty cannot continue,” O’Regan said. “While our B.C. ports are operating right now, we need long-term stability for the many workers and businesses that depend on them.”

In another letter, federal Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre called for Trudeau to fire O’Regan and “appoint a replacement who will move quickly” to end the port labour dispute.

“The first signs of this disruption occurred in November of 2022,” Poilievre wrote, referring to when the union and employers first filed a notice of its intention to negotiate a new agreement.

“You and your Minister had nearly a year to solve this, but you have failed.”

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What the B.C. port strike means for Canada

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Meanwhile, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh urged Ottawa to help reach a fair deal for port workers.

“A decent wage and job security is the very least these crucial workers should be able to expect,” Singh said in a news release Saturday morning.

The B.C. Maritime Employers Association, through which employers are negotiating, says the rejected deal included a compounded wage increase of 19.2 per cent and a signing bonus amounting to about $3,000 per full-time worker.

It added the result would have “potentially” boosted union longshore workers’ median annual wage from $136,000 to $162,000, not including pension and benefits.

B.C. port workers’ union open to negotiating as federal intervention looms

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