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Stalemate Continues at End of First Week of Canadian Port Strike

Canada port strike
Vancouver says four containerships are waiting in the anchorage due to the strike (ILWU photo)

Published Jul 7, 2023 4:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

The strike at Canada’s West Coast ports stretched into its seventh day with no signs of progress as both sides remain firmly entrenched in their positions and no new talks are scheduled. Despite continuing calls for government intervention from industry across Canada and in the United States, so far, the Canadian government has not acted, and as a result, carriers are beginning to reroute some ships.

The strike began on July 1 with the International Longshore & Warehouse Union citing demands for wage increases responding to the rate of inflation and workers’ efforts during the pandemic to keep the supply chains moving. However, the sticking point seems to have emerged around the issue of outsourcing at the terminals. The union is also seeking to limit the use of automation at the ports saying it needed to protect the jobs for the future.

Talks broke down on July 5 with the employers’ representative, the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) accusing the union of attempting to rewrite the labor rules related to outsourcing. They contend that the union already oversees all work but has a hard time providing key trades to the terminals. The ILWU argues it is fighting to protect jurisdiction.

The strike impacts containerships, wet and dry bulk, but by law, not grain ships. Both sides also agreed to continue to service the cruise and passenger ships during the strike.

The Port of Vancouver sought to clarify earlier reports noting that not all ships at the port are impacted by the strike. They highlighted that there are currently four containerships in the anchorage and another eight outside that are not able to proceed to the terminals due to the strike. There are currently no containerships at the terminals.

Similarly, the Port of Prince Rupert is highlighting that two of its seven terminals are currently impacted by strike action, Fairview Container Terminal and Westview Wood Pellet Terminal. Port officials said that this affects two vessels within port jurisdiction that are currently at anchor, unable to discharge their cargoes.

CNBC is reporting that two containerships, one from MSC and another from OOCL, however, have become the first to divert from Vancouver sailing toward Seattle. Both vessels are now expected to reach the U.S. port on July 10. In addition, they are citing data from Marine Traffic reporting that an additional 15 containerships are heading toward Vancouver and nine are bound for Prince Rupert.

As the strike drags on, BCMEA is saying that C$4.6 billion worth of cargo has potentially already been disrupted. CNBC projects that the 24 containerships reporting they are sailing to the ports could represent an additional nearly $11 billion in trade.

No new talks are scheduled with both sides standing firm on their current positions. Government mediators are reportedly in touch with both sides while Canada’s federal labor minister, Seamus O’Regan has publicly said that he continues to favor a negotiated settlement. Mid-week he spoke with provincial ministers who reportedly expressed growing concerns and the view that the federal government might need to become more directly involved. CNBC reports O’Regan is also having a call with the U.S.’s Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, who was successful in getting the tentative agreement for the U.S. West Coast labor contract.

The ILWU issued a statement on Thursday accusing BCMEA of using a “smear campaign,” misrepresenting data to reporters about the work rules and pay for waterfront workers. They continue to contend that the BCMEA is working to “pave the way for back-to-work legislation.”

“Our members’ families are facing spiraling food bills, housing costs, and interest rates,” said ILWU Canada President Rob Aston in the statement.  “All we’re asking from employers is to share some of the wealth our labor is creating for them through a fair, reasonable increase in wages.”

BCMEA on Thursday, July 6, issued a call for the union to join in a voluntary mediation-arbitration process. While saying it is ready to return to the negotiations, the employers have said no progress will be made based on the current positions.