ILWU Canada Ordered Back to Work, But Strike May Resume in 72 Hours

Canada dock strike
Dock strike is now set to resume on Saturday morning at Canada's West Coast Ports (BCMEA file photo)

Published Jul 19, 2023 4:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) this morning ordered striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada members back to work immediately at the country’s West Coast ports. The action came a little over 12 hours after the union announced it had voted down the proposed new four-year contract and resumed the strike as of 16:30 on Tuesday.

A technicality in the labor law, a requirement that unions must give 72 hours' notice before striking, was used to create a little bit of breathing room while Canada’s federal government is considering its next steps. Previously, the federal government had said it preferred to settle the contract through collective bargaining, but last week it used its powers to impose final terms after Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan said the differences between the two sides were too small to warrant continuing the strike.

“We should not be here…. We have been patient. We have respected the collective bargaining process. But we need our ports operating,” O’Regan and Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a joint statement after learning yesterday that the ILWU rejected the terms of the agreement. The employers represented by the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) yesterday fully accepted the terms developed by the government mediators.

The CIRB was rushed into a teleconference yesterday hearing the arguments from both sides. The employers represented by BCMEA filed the grievance arguing it was an illegal strike. The ILWU said it could immediately resume the action yesterday afternoon because it was an ongoing strike. The CIRB disagreed ruling the strike was illegal and issued an immediate cease and desist order telling the union to send the dockworkers back to work immediately.

The ILWU countered this morning by filing a notice of a new strike with the required 72-hour notice. The strike is now scheduled to resume as of 9:00 a.m. Pacific time on Saturday, July 22. Under Canadian law, the dockworkers must service grain vessels during the strike and the intent is that cruise ships will again be exempt from the strike action.

The BCMEA is lashing out calling the strike “unnecessary and reckless.” They said the ILWU leadership is choosing to further harm Canada’s economy citing estimates that the 13-day strike disrupted at least C$10 billion (US$7.6 billion) in trade.

The union rejected the terms developed last week by the government mediator again citing issues of jurisdiction and job protection. Outsourcing of maintenance work at the terminals emerged as the primary issue leading to the impasse. The union also contends the terms have not addressed the cost-of-living issues and finally that the four-year term was “far too long.”

After saying it would not discuss the terms of the proposed agreement, BCMEA detailed that it included a 19.2 percent compound wage increase over four years, not including benefits and the pension, calling the terms above the norm of recent contracts and significantly ahead of the approximately 10 percent increases in the past three years. They also said there was an increase of 18.5 percent for the retirement lump sum payment and commitments to increase apprentices, tool allowances, and other provisions.

Frustrated by the breakdown, business and government leaders are all adamant that the federal government needs to act. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said that the Prime Minister must end the strike immediately. The ministers in their statement yesterday reported they were looking at all options. Today’s back-to-work order is giving them a small window to determine the government’s actions.