B.C. port workers union calls off strike notice hours after issuing it
Prime minister had convened crisis committee in response to possible 2nd strike
The union representing port workers in B.C. says it has withdrawn a 72-hour strike notice that had sparked concerns the province’s ports could be shut down again by Saturday.
The withdrawal is “effective immediately,” International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada president Rob Ashton said in a news release around 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Earlier that morning, the ILWU served the B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) with a 72-hour strike notice starting 9 a.m. PT Saturday morning, after a Tuesday job action was ruled illegal and B.C. port workers were ordered back to work.
The union says it did so in the hope of returning to the bargaining table, and it “regrets” the economic impact of the dispute that previously shut down B.C. ports for 13 days at the start of the month, stalling cargo worth billions.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the BCMEA said the cancelled strike notice showed that the situation continued to be “fluid and unpredictable,” and that it would communicate with stakeholders once clarification was received.
Members of the ILWU returned to the picket lines Tuesday afternoon after the union rejected a tentative mediated deal.
The union said the four-year term of the mediator’s proposed agreement was “far too long” and “employers have not addressed the cost of living issues” faced by workers in the last few years.
However, workers were forced to return to work after the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) ruled that the strike was “unlawful” as the union had not issued a 72-hour strike notice.
Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan called the renewed strike action illegal after the CIRB’s decision.
A spokesperson for O’Regan’s office said Wednesday that they had received the union’s notice that strike action would not resume and workers would be back on the job on Thursday and said they hope it means the union will ratify the tentative deal put forward by the federal mediator.
Union ‘not satisfied’ with deal
In a statement Wednesday morning, union president Rob Ashton said the union’s caucus “was not satisfied the mediator’s deal met the membership’s goals and directed the bargaining committee to seek a negotiated agreement.”
The BCMEA said the union rejected the deal without sending it to a full membership vote.
By late morning, picket lines had disappeared from the BCMEA dispatch centre near the Port of Vancouver, and trucks were seen sporadically coming in and out of port facilities.
The BCMEA said the board’s decision came too late to dispatch workers for Wednesday’s 8 a.m. shift.
It said workers at Vancouver’s inner harbour were scheduled to return for their 1 a.m. shift on Thursday, while work was scheduled to resume in other port areas, including Prince Rupert, on Wednesday afternoon.
PM convenes emergency committee
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened a crisis cabinet committee Wednesday in response to the workers announcing they would resume the strike that has disrupted Canada’s supply chain since July 1, according to a government source with knowledge of the matter.
Trudeau’s office confirmed that the Incident Response Group was meeting “to discuss the situation in British Columbia’s ports” in the prime minister’s official itinerary Wednesday. CBC is not naming the source because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The move underscores the importance being attached to the dispute, with the response group only convened at times of “national crisis” or to discuss events with major implications for Canada.
Consisting of cabinet ministers and senior officials, it has previously been convened over events including the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, blockades associated with the truck convoy protests last year and the short-lived rebellion in Russia last month.
Ports need to be operating, ministers say
More than 7,400 workers from the ILWU originally walked off the job from July 1 to 13 over issues including port automation, outside contracting and the increasing cost of living.
The strike froze billions of dollars worth of cargo from moving in and out of harbours, including at Canada’s busiest port in Vancouver.
O’Regan and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra have said workers and employers across Canada cannot face further disruption and that they were looking at all options.
The ministers said they have been patient and respected the collective bargaining process, but they need the ports operating.
B.C. Premier David Eby expressed dismay at the developments.
“It’s profoundly disappointing to see that we’re back where we were before, but I can’t help but feel that whatever is separating the parties is not worth this disruption.
“They’ve got to get it sorted out at the table as quickly as possible,” he said at an unrelated news conference Wednesday.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has said Trudeau must end the strike immediately because of the massive cost to workers, consumers and businesses.
NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said it’s a part of union bargaining rights to be able to reject an agreement.
Calls for Ottawa to pass back-to-work legislation to end the strike have come from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
“The 13-day strike had already done significant damage to small businesses across the country and Canada’s international reputation as a dependable trading partner,” CFIB executive vice-president Corinne Pohlmann said in a statement.
Eby said relying on Ottawa to bring in back-to-work legislation would not be a quick solution.
“A short and immediate-term solution is not federal legislation and counting on the minority parliament in Ottawa to step in,” he said.
“The parties need to accept the responsibility that they have on both sides to come to the table in good faith and solve this for Canadians quickly.”
Source: CBC News
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