Canadian port workers in BC strike against automation and outsourcing News
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Canadian port workers in BC strike against automation and outsourcing

Canadian unionised port workers in the Pacific coast province of British Columbia went on strike on Thursday. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) are currently undergoing negotiations on behalf of the workers with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA). The Collective Agreement which has governed the relationship between the port workers and their employers expired in March, and the parties have failed to reach an agreement.

One day prior to the strike, the ILWU issued a 72-hour strike notice and stated their intentions, in accordance with Section 87.7 of the Canada Labour Code. The port workers are seeking to stop their employers from contracting out jobs and advancing port automation. The port workers also request a wage increase in light of the rising living cost in British Columbia. The ILWU stated that the strike was necessary because the BCMEA is not willing to negotiate with the ILWU on these issues. In response to the strike, the BCMEA claimed that they are open to any solution that brings both parties to a balanced agreement.

The BCMEA proposed a mediation & arbitration clause which gives parties the right to voluntarily enter a mediation-arbitration process and provide for a binding outcome via interest arbitration. The ILWU rejected the proposal. The parties have also engaged with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in the negotiation. Section 72 of the Canada Labour Code provides that the Minister of Labour shall appoint a conciliation officer within 15 days. The conciliation officer would assist parties to reach a collective agreement. Section 80 also provides that the Minister may refer this dispute to the Conciliation Board to settle the terms and conditions of the first collective agreement between parties if the Conciliation Board deems it advisable.

The strike has had a wide impact on the Canadian economy, with a statement issued by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) on Saturday noting that “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 inflations”. CFIB vice president Jasmin Guénette urged the government to ensure port activities are fully maintained by legislation, while Beacon economics international trade adviser Jock O’Connell suggested that the strike at BC ports could also disrupt the operation of other West Coast ports in the United States.