Possibility of strike already impacts B.C. ports

(Resource News International) –– Canada’s busy West Coast ports are already feeling the impact of a possible strike by ship and dock foremen belonging to Local 514 of the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) of Canada.

Roughly 425 workers at ports in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert have voted to strike unless the union, the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) and two federally-appointed mediators are able to negotiate new labour contracts.

The union’s latest proposal, made over the weekend, is being considered by the BCMEA, which had promised to respond to the proposal by Friday at the latest.

“Yes, absolutely there has been an impact on the ports,” said Peter Xotta, vice-president of business development for Port Metro Vancouver.

Port Metro Vancouver was created last year through the amalgamation of the Fraser River Port Authority, North Fraser Port Authority and Vancouver Port Authority.

Even the threat of a strike begins to affect the ports almost immediately because customers begin to withhold cargo and in some instances reroute shipments in order to prepare for a disruption, Xotta explained.

He declined to comment on the specific magnitude of the impact so far, citing the need to complete a thorough assessment first.

Also, because of the current volatile economic conditions, “it is difficult to say on a year-over-year basis what degree of impact one issue is having versus the other,” he said.

However, any disruption or threat of disruption is unwelcome because it harms the port’s reputation as a reliable gateway, Xotta emphasized.

“The significance of Vancouver and the West Coast to the country’s trading ability goes beyond Vancouver and the participants involved. It is about our ability to trade to as a country. It is what we are known for and this sort of thing damages our reputation and anything that limits our ability to market that skill should be and is a concern to all of us,” Xotta said.

Capt. Stephen Brown, president of the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, has urged the union and the companies represented by BCMEA to reach an agreement as soon as possible.

“We are proud of B.C.’s Pacific Gateway that our governments, businesses and workers have built together but we are deeply concerned that a shutdown during this economically uncertain time will jeopardize that success,” Brown said in a statement on the Chamber’s website.

According to media reports, Brown believes Seattle and Tacoma will be among the ports that receive a share of the business diverted away from B.C.

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