Canada’s Labor Minister Will Present Terms for Settlement of Port Strike

Canada port strike
Ships are forced to wait as the dockworkers strike entered its 12th day (BCMEA photo)

Published Jul 12, 2023 12:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

Canada’s federal labor minister, Seamus O’Regan, is taking steps to bring the 12-day-old labor strike at the West Coast ports to an end. Saying that he does not believe the difference in position between the employers and union is sufficient to justify a continued work stoppage, O’Regan is seeking to set the terms for an agreement.

O’Regan has been in Vancouver meeting with the mediators and both sides in the strike that started on July 1 when approximately 7,500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union walked off the job impacting 29 West Coast ports including Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Talks broke down last week primarily over issues related to the outsourcing of trade labor maintenance work at the terminals. Talks resumed last weekend and CBC is reporting that they met face-to-face on Monday joined by the former president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Senator Hassan Yussuf, who had helped negotiate an end to a public sector strike in April and May of this year.

“We cannot allow this work stoppage to persist,” said O’Regan instructing the senior federal mediator to within 24 hours make written recommendations of the terms of the settlement. O’Regan will submit the terms of the settlement to the union and British Columbia Maritime Employers Association and both sides will have 24 hours to decide whether or not to recommend ratification. 

It is unclear what would happen if either side rejects the terms. O’Regan had consistently said he wanted a settlement at the bargaining table, but pressure has been growing on the federal government to act. At a premiers’ meeting on Tuesday, some of the regional leaders called on the federal government to take a more active role and if necessary to move to legislation to order the dockworkers back to work.

More businesses across Canada have begun to report they are feeling the impact of the strike, Nutrien, a fertilizer producer, announced it was reducing operations at its potash mine because it could not ship the material. Canfor Pulp also reported it would curtail production at a mill in Prince George. Reports are also citing examples including a beverage manufacturer that has its bottles stuck on a ship off Vancouver, while retailers said merchandise imports are stuck, and a construction company cited potential delays while it waits for steel imports to be offloaded.

“Enough is enough. The federal government can't just stand on the sidelines with its arms folded. They need to intervene quickly,” said Jasmin Guénette, Vice-President of National Affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. 

The group released a survey reporting that more than half of Canadian businesses said the strike will affect their operations. Three-quarters of businesses called on the federal government to make ending the strike a top priority.

The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association is estimating that the strike is disrupting C$500 million (US$380 million) a day in trade.