Ottawa deliberates on how to bring an end to B.C. ports strike

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Many business organizations are fed up with the ongoing labour dispute at B.C.'s ports and its impact on the nation's supply chains. They want the federal government to step in and legislate port workers back to work. PHOTO courtesy Vancouver Port Authority.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the deadlock in contract negotiations at B.C. ports, which is threatening the nation’s supply chains.

Trudeau met with the Incident Response Group, which is comprised of federal ministers selected to deliberate on issues with major implications for the country.

The striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) caught the federal government by surprise when it returned to the picket lines earlier this week after declining to ratify a four-year deal hammered out with the help of federal mediators last week. When the resumption of the strike was deemed illegal by the Canada Industrial Relations Board because the union had failed to provide 72-hour notice of its plan to return to the picket lines, the union issued a new strike notice for this Saturday. And then in yet another surprising move it rescinded its strike order to members.

Despite the union rescinding its renewed strike notice, however, many business organizations are fed up and want the federal government to step in and legislate port workers back to work.

“A second strike at the ports of British Columbia, days after an all-party agreement was reached, is intolerable for Canadian manufacturers. Our businesses, like any other in Canada, only thrive on the stability of our critical transportation infrastructure. We need this strike to end, and for the BC ports to open now” said Dennis Darby, President and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. “We urge the federal government to deploy any measure at its disposal, especially back-to-work legislation, that will bring the quickest end to the strike. Any delay will only add to the damage done to manufacturers, the economy, and Canada’s global reputation.”

Last week, CME conducted a survey of its members that showed the ports strike in British Columbia had a severe impact on their businesses and the Canadian economy. The poll was conducted between July 11 and July 13, 2023, and received input from manufacturers from across the country.

Nearly two-thirds of manufacturers in Canada said the strike affected their operations now, while another 28 per cent of respondents said it was only a matter of time until they experienced problems themselves. Of those impacted, just under 70 per cent said the impacts were “significant” to “severe”. Costs to individual manufacturing businesses experiencing delays were reported to be on average of $207,000 per day.

Most concerningly, however, nine out of 10 affected manufacturers said the strike disrupted their supply of raw materials or components, while 70 per cent reported that it negatively impacted their relationships with customers, hurting already fragile supply chains.

While the results of this survey revealed the reputational and economic costs of the strike, CME also asked what reforms manufacturers would like to see to prevent future labour disruptions. An overwhelming 95 per cent said they are in favour of reforms that that would allow the government to impose binding arbitration on striking workers, while another 97 per cent of respondents want the government to treat critical aspects of Canada’s transportation system as essential services.

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