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Ottawa launches B.C. port strike review seeking ‘stability’ for future

Click to play video: 'BC Port Strike: Terms of workers’ agreement released'
BC Port Strike: Terms of workers’ agreement released
WATCH — BC Port Strike: Terms of workers’ agreement released – Aug 9, 2023

Ottawa is launching a review of this past summer’s port strike in British Columbia to ensure “stability” during any future labour disruptions.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan announced the start of the review process Thursday by tapping an industrial relations expert and a mediator to begin the work.

“Our government believes in collective bargaining. We believe that the best deals are made at the table. It can be tough, messy work. But it’s how the best deals are made. Disputes, including strikes and lockouts, are all part of that process,” O’Regan said in a statement.

“This past summer, however, Canadians experienced an economic disruption that no single dispute should be responsible for. Our ports are vital to our supply chains, and the scale of disruption was a burden on the many businesses and workers that depend on them.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. port workers begin voting on tentative agreement'
B.C. port workers begin voting on tentative agreement

O’Regan added that he committed in August to starting a process under Section 106 of the Canada Labour Code to probe the issues at the centre of the port strike, as well as other disputes in ports across the nation over recent years.

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Anthony Giles, a former federal assistant deputy minister for employment policy and dispute resolution and now an adjunct professor of employment relations at Queen’s University, and Kevin Banks, a mediator and associate professor of law at Queen’s University who is editor-in-chief of the Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal, will begin the work, O’Regan said.

“Between now and December 31, 2023, they will be tasked with identifying the key questions that need to be answered and proposing the terms of reference for this review. In the New Year, we will update Canadians on the next steps in that process,” he said.

“The goal of this review is stability. Canada is a reliable trading partner to the world. That is a good thing for every employer and worker in this country. But our credibility depends on the stable operation of our supply chains. We must do everything we can to preserve that stability.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. port strike: 3rd tentative agreement reached in labour dispute'
B.C. port strike: 3rd tentative agreement reached in labour dispute

On Aug. 5, the union representing about 7,400 B.C. port workers said members voted almost 75 per cent in favour of ratifying the new deal, ending a dispute that included a 13-day strike and had halted the movement of cargo worth billions.

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The deal featured general wage increases of five per cent annually for the next two years and four per cent for the two years after that.

It also included a commitment by employers to train workers to perform maintenance on new equipment. Contracting out of maintenance work to third parties had been one of the most contentious issues during the dispute.

The deal followed a chaotic five weeks at the port, starting on Canada Day.

On July 13, O’Regan announced that “the strike is over,” with the union and employers accepting terms of a settlement from federal mediators, and work resumed at the ports.

Click to play video: 'Exploring North America’s labour unrest during a ‘summer of strikes’'
Exploring North America’s labour unrest during a ‘summer of strikes’

On July 18, the union said its leadership caucus rejected the mediated settlement, sending workers pack to picket lines again.

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The industrial relations board then ruled the strike was illegal without 72-hour notice.

On July 19, workers returned to the job while the union filed a notice to strike, only to pull it hours later.

Click to play video: 'Is this Canada’s summer of strikes?'
Is this Canada’s summer of strikes?

Instead, the union announced it would put the contract offer to a full-membership vote, leading to the last rejection on July 28.

The on-again off-again dispute spurred several business groups and political leaders, including Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, to call for back-to-work legislation.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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