Thursday, December 11, 2008

Labour Dispute Threatens B.C. Ports

(CIFFA eBulletin – Financial Post)

The movement of goods through Canada’s West Coast ports could slam to a halt in the New Year if a festering labour dispute is not resolved soon. Workers at British Columbia ports in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert will be in a position to strike beginning January 2. Port officials say imports and exports of all commodities – save grain, whose shipments are protected by law – will immediately halt if that happens. Negotiators for the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have spent the past 60 days working with a pair of conciliators. Those talks were expected to halt Tuesday night, which was set as a pre-established conciliation deadline, but were resume Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. in hopes the two sides can find some resolution.

Stephen Brown, the president of the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, expressed confidence that a labour disruption will be avoided. “Unemployment is on the increase throughout North America, so to take a major port down when [workers] have extremely high-paying jobs would be not a smart thing to do.” However, BCMEA President Andy Smith warned that talks are not going well. If a new contract is not signed by this weekend, when cargo bound for the West Coast starts loading in far eastern ports, international shipping lines will begin sending Vancouver-bound shipments elsewhere. “The significant Canadian and American shippers are saying, ‘if you don’t’ have a deal we’re going to have to start to divert now’,” Mr. Smith said. “So even if a deal is made between now and the second [ofJanuary], there will be as significant diminishing of business hitting the port.”

If workers do strike, the political upheaval in Ottawa could worsen an already bad situation. In previous waterfront strikes, the outcry from across the country has forced the federal government to order workers back to work. But with Parliament prorogued until January 27, “we wouldn’t have access to Parliament ordering us back until sometime probably in the second week of February,” Mr. Smith said…The Port of Vancouver alone moves $43-billion worth of goods a year, or $117-million a day. The current round of labour negotiations has been snagged on contract language surrounding pension payments and working conditions. Read the full article here.