B.C. port workers back on strike

B.C. port workers back on strike
Jul 19, 2023

The government should implement back-to-work legislation, one farmer said

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

More than 7,000 port workers in British Columbia are back on the picket lines after the workers’ union rejected a tentative agreement.

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union voted down the terms a federal mediator recommended to the organization and the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, the union announced on July 18.

The union “does not believe the recommendations had the ability to protect our jobs now or into the future,” a statement says. “Our position since day one has been to protect our jurisdiction and this position has not changed.”

ILWU membership didn’t vote on the agreement.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement on July 13 and the employers association ratified the deal on the same day.

Members of the ag community are concerned with the ongoing labour challenge.

Cargo is already backed up at the more than 30 ports affected by the strike.

With harvest beginning in some areas soon, this problem is going to get worse, said Ian Chitwood, vice-chair of Alberta Canola.

“It’s going to exasperate a lot of backlogs,” he told Farms.com. “We’re moving grain but obviously it will be slower in a couple of months. You’re going to see bigger troubles at grain elevators and along the rail system.”

And once the strike does come to an end, it’s unlikely ag products will receive special attention.

Other goods would be handled first, leaving agriculture with further delays, Chitwood said.

“The bulk commodities and intermodal transport gets first priority,” he said. “They’re going to try to fix those backlogs first for the manufacturers and retailers. If a ship has to wait it’s going to be a grain ship.”

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan could be looking at tabling back-to-work legislation.

He resisted calls for such legislation during the first strike but appears ready to use his authorities to stop the strike from dragging on.

“Workers and employers across Canada cannot face further disruption on the scale we saw last week,” he said in a July 18 statement with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. “Therefore, we are looking at all options.”

The federal government has to consider legislating workers back on the job, Chitwood said.

“With the rejection of the offer, and the fact it didn’t even go to membership for a vote, I’d like to see the back-to-work legislation,” he said. “We can’t let this continue for any extended amount of time.”

On July 19, O’Regan tweeted a ruling from the Canada Industrial Relations Board stating the union didn’t provide the required 72-hour strike notice.

“This strike is illegal,” the minister tweeted.

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