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Further negotiations won’t end B.C. port workers strike, employers say

Strike affecting B.C. ports now into its 4th day as talks stall
An International Longshore and Warehouse Union worker pickets outside of the BC Maritime Employers Association Dispatch Centre after a 72-hour strike notice and no agreement made on the bargaining table in Vancouver, on Saturday, July 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

The strike at British Columbia ports enters its fourth day after talks between the two sides stalled on Monday with both sides accusing the other of being unreasonable.

The BC Maritime Employers Association released a statement Monday afternoon saying it had gone as far as possible on core issues and it doesn’t think more bargaining is going to produce a collective agreement.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, representing thousands of workers who load and unload cargo at terminals at more than 30 B.C. ports, says it’s the association that “sabotaged the progress.”

Thousands of union members walked off the job Saturday morning. Both sides negotiated over the weekend and were at the table earlier in the day on Monday.

The association said it has advanced “reasonable proposals and positions in good faith” but said the union refuses to budge.

“ILWU Canada went on strike over demands that were and continue to be outside any reasonable framework for settlement. Given the foregoing mentioned, the BCMEA is of the view that a continuation of bargaining at this time is not going to produce a collective agreement,” the statement read.

“ILWU Canada needs to decide if they are going to continue this strike with no hope of settlement, or significantly modify their position so a fair and balanced deal can be reached.”

A key stumbling block appears to be around maintenance work, with the association accusing the union of attempting to change definitions and “aggressively expand their scope.” Union president Rob Ashton said ILWU Canada is focused on stopping “the erosion of jurisdiction” and the extensive use of contractors.

“When we finally had a document that was largely agreed upon as the result of continuous movement by the union on this one position the association decided to change their position in an attempt to muddy the water and mischaracterize the work, we have spent months discussing,” Ashton said in a statement.

Ashton said it’s reasonable for workers, who he said helped achieve record profits during the pandemic, to have a fair and equitable share of them.

The strike led businesses organizations to issue warnings about wide-reaching implications across the country, with some pushing for the federal government to step in with back-to-work legislation.

The union, meanwhile, warned Ottawa not to interfere.

“We implore the BCMEA to get back to the table to achieve a fair and reasonable agreement that the parties negotiate together,” Ashton said in his statement.

“It is unrealistic to think that a collective agreement that is imposed will result in long term labour stability in the industry. The parties need to put their best effort forward for the entire country and not just their individual aims.”

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan has said the focus of negotiations “needs to be on the table.”

The association represents 49 private sector employers operating in B.C. ports, and its website says the industry contributes $2.7 billion to Canada’s GDP while handling roughly 16 per cent of the country’s total traded goods — amounting to $180 billion in 2020.

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