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Work Resumes at Canadian West Coast Ports as Federal Terms End Strike

Canada port strike
The nearly two-week old strike at Canada's West Coast ports came to an end as federal mediators presented terms to the union and employeers (file photo)

Published Jul 13, 2023 5:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

Canada’s 13-day port strike impacting more than 30 West Coast ports, including Vancouver and Prince Rupert, is over with the announcement of a tentative four-year deal between the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Canada’s ministers of labor and transport issued a joint statement announcing that both sides accepted the terms of settlement from federal mediators, later confirmed by BCMEA which said work would start to resume with the 4:30 p.m. Pacific time shift. Experts however caution that it will take weeks to recover from the impact of the work stoppage.

“The scale of this disruption has been significant,” said Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan and Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra in a joint statement announcing the tentative agreement. O’Regan stepped in to meet with both sides after the negotiations stalemated late last week and yesterday announced that he had instructed federal mediators to draft the final agreement. The labor minister said that the differences between the two sides no longer warranted the work stoppage.

Terms of the agreement have not been announced pending ratification votes by both the union and employers. The key sticking point had come down to outsourcing trade labor for maintenance at the terminals as well as the extent of the wage increase. The union was also looking to limit automation at the terminals saying it needed to protect future jobs.

Pressure had been growing on the federal government to intervene as shipments piled up and major industries began to announce that they were curtailing or reducing some operations. A potash mine and pulp mill both reported they were reducing production while a survey said that half of all Canadian businesses were being impacted by the strike. Estimates said the strike was costing as much as $500 million a day in trade.

AIS data appears to show that eight or nine containerships are waiting near the Port of Vancouver and four others at the Port of Prince Rupert. The Great Vancouver Board of Trade said that there were as many as 63,000 shipping containers stuck due to the strike and warned it could have ballooned to 245,000 by month’s end without a settlement. Several ships reportedly skipped their planned Canadian port calls or had begun to proceed to the U.S. as the strike dragged on, while MSC announced it was delaying planned changes to its Pacific services due to the strike.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses said in a statement that it could take months to fully clear the supply chain backlogs that resulted from the nearly two-week strike. Others including from Canada’s two major railroads said it would be weeks before everything was moving again.

In addition to business leaders and trade associations, provincial governments were also calling for action to get the ports working again while the union was fighting against attempts for a federal back-to-work order. 

With the strike over, leaders however are saying that steps need to be taken to enhance Canadian labor laws. The President of the Greater Victoria Board of Trade told CBC News that the federal government needs to explore additional tolls to address future labor disputes. The ministers in their statement highlighted their belief in collective bargaining while also saying that “we do not want to be back here again.”