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Canadian Port Strike Withdrawn as Prime Minister Gets Involved

Canada dockworkers strike
ILWU Canada withdrew plans to resume its strike on Saturday after Prime Minister Trudeau instructed ministers to explore all available options to protect the supply chain (ILWU Canada file photo)

Published Jul 20, 2023 3:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Plans to resume the dockworkers' strike at Canada’s West Coast ports on Saturday, July 22, were withdrawn by the International Longshore & Warehouse Union after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began discussing the situation with his minister and advisers. Containers are moving at that 30 terminals and ports in British Columbia, but the employers’ association is warning that “this continues to be a fluid and unpredictable situation.”

The 7,400 members of the ILWU began returning to work on Wednesday afternoon after the Canadian Industrial Relations Board ruled their return to the picket lines on Tuesday afternoon was an illegal strike. Work at Prince Rupert was expected to resume Wednesday afternoon, while Vancouver reported it would restart with the 0100 shift Thursday morning.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday spoke with British Columbia Premier David Eby discussing how the situation has created severe disruption to Canada’s largest export and import gateway. The two leaders agreed to remain in close contact while Trudeau also took the unusual step of convening an Incident Response Group. The rarely used process was last invoked at the start of the pandemic and to address Canada’s trucking strike. It brings together ministers and senior officials.

Trudeau said that he stressed the critical importance of resuming operations at the ports as soon as possible. He directed the ministers and officials to “pursue all available options,” to ensure the stability of the supply chain.

Shortly after news of the Prime Minister’s involvement the ILWU issued a brief statement saying that the 72-hour notice for a strike scheduled for July 22 had “been removed.” The union provided no additional details but Canadian news outlet CBC is saying the union rescinded the strike notice in hopes of returning to the bargaining table.

Union officials on Tuesday said their council had rejected the proposed settlement developed by federal mediators. They said it had fallen short on protecting jobs now and into the future. The stalemate emerged last week regarding the outsourcing of maintenance work at the terminals. In addition, the ILWU said the proposed contract at four years was “far too long,” and did not address the cost-of-living issues.

Canada’s Labor and Transport ministers expressed their frustration after the ILWU rejected the terms which had been accepted by the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association. CBC in its reporting is citing a spokesperson for Labor Secretary Seamus O’Regan saying that the minister was hopeful that Wednesday’s developments meant the ILWU would ratify the tentative deal put forward by the federal mediator.

The Canadian Parliament is currently not scheduled to convene till September, meaning the Prime Minister would have to recall the members if the government decides to legislate a settlement. Observers have said that would require a week or more to achieve.