British Columbia port employers and longshore union representatives held contract talks with federal mediators less than a day before a lock-out is set to begin at ports across the province.
Representatives from the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)-Canada met on May 29 in hopes of averting a costly disruption to Canada’s economy.
The BCMEA plans to lock out thousands of ILWU members on May 30 in response a “limited job action” at two terminals of Canada’s largest port, Vancouver.
Jeff Scott, chair of the BCMEA board, said the ILWU actions compromised the safety and operations of the terminals. He said a lock-out across British Columbia ports was necessary to bring “clarity and certainty” to the situation.
Scott said four vessels had already been diverted from Vancouver because of the action.
The BCMEA characterized the ILWU-Canada’s move as a “strike action” in its notice to the union. The lockout would affect all longshore employees covered by a contract that expired in 2018. Employees who service grain vessels are excluded under federal law.
“The BCMEA did not arrive at this decision lightly, as it followed significant discussion understanding the economic impact this will have on the Canadian economy,” the association said in a statement.
The ILWU condemned the move.
“This is a reckless, irresponsible and needless decision that will undermine the economy of BC [British Columbia] and Canada,” said ILWU-Canada President Rob Ashton said in a statement.
The impending lock-out places pressure on federal mediators, who have been attempting to broker a deal between the ILWU and BCMEA. A disruption at British Columbia ports would hurt the Canadian economy.
The ILWU’s action at the Vancouver terminals, which followed an announcement for a full walk-out, suggested that dispute might be abating. But the lock-out significantly raises the stakes.
Scott, chair of the BCMEA board, said operations at Vancouver, Canada’s largest port, could cost more than C$500 million (a Canadian dollar equals US$0.74) per day.
The ILWU is seeking to address concerns about the effects automation will have on its members. Deltaport, Vancouver’s largest terminal, already have semi-automatic processes, and it is planning to incorporate more to increase capacity.