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Labour minister threatens possibility of imposed agreement after B.C. port workers reject latest deal

Home News Labour minister threatens possibility of imposed agreement after B.C. port workers reject latest deal

Labour minister threatens possibility of imposed agreement after B.C. port workers reject latest deal

Second time the longshore workers’ union has rejected a deal in ongoing B.C. port dispute

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan says he may be looking at binding arbitration to end a job dispute at B.C.’s ports after union workers rejected a mediated deal.

In a Saturday statement, O’Regan said that he had directed the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to find out if the rejection meant a negotiated agreement was impossible.

“If the Board determines that to be the case, I have directed them to either impose a new collective agreement on the parties or impose final binding arbitration to resolve outstanding terms of the collective agreement,” the statement reads.

O’Regan adds that the federal government was “prepared for all options” in the job action, leaving open the possibility of back-to-work legislation.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) workers had rejected the agreement on Friday, extending job action that prevented billions in goods from moving for almost two weeks earlier this month.

In a letter posted on the union’s website, union president Rob Ashton says workers are now calling on their employers to “come to the table” and negotiate directly, instead of doing so through the B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA).

In a statement, the BCMEA says it is disappointed the four-year tentative agreement was rejected, calling it a “good deal that recognized the skills and efforts of B.C.’s waterfront workforce while providing certainty and stability for the future of Canada’s West Coast ports.”

A large sign strung up between two trees reads "Stamp out. Union-busting in all ports."
The 13-day strike had shut down ports across B.C. was initially ended by a tentative deal, but the union attempted to restart the strike shortly after. That was deemed illegal by the Canada Industrial Relations Board. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The four-year agreement between the union and maritime employers went to a vote of about 7,400 workers on Thursday and Friday, after union leaders presented the deal to local chapters on Tuesday. ILWU workers staff more than 30 port terminals and other sites across the province, including Canada’s largest port in Vancouver.

The deal worked out with federal mediators had put a temporary halt to a 13-day strike that had commenced July 1, but its fate see-sawed wildly as the union leadership then rejected it and tried to go back to picket lines.

When that was deemed illegal by the CIRB, the union submitted a new 72-hour strike notice, only to withdraw it hours later.

On July 20, the union announced it was recommending the deal and would put it to a full membership vote.

‘Simply didn’t meet the union’s priorities’

Mark Thompson, a professor emeritus at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says he is perplexed over union membership rejecting the latest deal.

“I’m surprised, but I can understand why it didn’t pass,” said Thompson. “The package simply didn’t meet the union’s priorities.”

Thompson says because the union was so adamant about the issues of job security and outside contracting, those issues may have been unaddressed on the contract before them.

“That’s the signal, that something which is important to them is going left unaddressed.”

On Friday evening, the BCMEA revealed details of the deal.

It says the four-year package rejected by the ILWU included a compounded wage increase of 19.2 per cent and a signing bonus of $1.48 per hour worked to be paid to each employee.

What the B.C. port strike means for Canada

Workers at ports across B.C. are on strike. We break down why it’s happening and what it means for you and for Canada’s economy.

“Regrettably, ILWU’s rejection once again leaves businesses, Canadians and all those who depend on a stable, well-functioning supply chain hanging in the balance,” reads a statement from the employer.

Thompson says the federal government under Justin Trudeau has been supportive of collective bargaining in the past, and has been unwilling to impose a settlement by legislation.

On Sunday, Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre sent a letter to Trudeau urging him to fire O’Regan, saying he had failed to do his job to end the strike.

Calls for back-to-work legislation

The deal’s current failure will, however, give impetus to calls for back-to-work legislation that came earlier from industry groups and politicians, including Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

On Saturday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business characterized the rejection of the deal as “irresponsible” and said they were extremely disappointed.

“If the union issues another 72-hour strike notice, government will have to immediately introduce back-to-work legislation,” read a statement from the business group.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh — whose party has a supply-and-confidence deal with the Liberals in Parliament — said the better course of action is to get both sides of the dispute back to the negotiating table.

“Port workers in British Columbia are fighting for fairness; they want to know that they’ll have stability and a good wage so that they can continue supporting their families for years to come,” Singh said in a statement.

“We cannot lose sight of what is at stake for B.C. port workers, but also for all workers. Going to work to earn a living that feeds your family and puts a roof over your head is not too much to ask when CEOs are enjoying record profits.”

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.

The earlier job action was serious enough that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened the government’s incident response group to discuss the matter, an occurrence typically reserved for moments of national crisis.

SourceCBC News

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