Hundreds of people gathered in Vancouver today for a rally to support striking British Columbia port workers as their job action stretches into its second week.
Representatives from labour groups as far away as Australia and New Zealand spoke in support of the strikers, who continue to push for improved wages amid the growing cost of living and protection from what they see as an overuse of contractors for maintenance work.
About 7,400 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada employed at more than 30 B.C. ports have been on strike since Canada Day.
ILWU Canada vice president Pat Bolen told the crowd the collective agreement lays out “very clearly” that anything to do with the movement of cargo on docks or ships is the jurisdiction of the union, but says those powers have eroded over several years as more contractors with “no skin in the game” have been brought in.
ILWU Canada held the rally at Vancouver’s Jack Poole Plaza.
The International Transport Workers Federation, representing 740 affiliated trade unions with 18.5 million workers from 150 countries, has voiced its support for the ILWU’s quest for a contract that reflects its members’ contributions to the Canadian economy.
“B.C. shipping companies and terminals have made record profits during the pandemic as shipping costs have tripled through changes in the economy and buying habits,” said ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton.
After talks stalled on Monday, the two sides were back at the negotiating table Saturday, supported by federal mediators. The association has accused the union of trying to “aggressively expand” its control of maintenance duties beyond what has been established for decades.
Business organizations and some politicians have publicly called for the federal government to bring in back-to-work legislation, but Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan has said negotiations are the way to go.
The BC Maritime Employers Association issued a statement on Saturday evening saying it met with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada and proposed a committee and independent arbitrator to make recommendations related to key sticking points around maintenance work.
Other issues on the table include concerns around pay, the cost of living, and automation.
In its latest statement, the association said an arbitrator could make non-binding recommendations to help parties consider whether union members could perform some or all of the maintenance work in question.
It said their side also proposed increased benefits for casual tradespeople and more apprenticeships, but the union rejected the ideas.
“We believe a deal can be reached if ILWU Canada wants one,” the statement said.
“We know that the best deals are made at the table, and this is exactly what we are proposing the parties do.”
The union did not immediately release its position on the meeting but has previously accused employers of waiting for the federal government to do their “dirty work” instead of negotiating.
It has said employers enjoyed record-high profits for many years, especially during the pandemic, and workers who work under difficult and dangerous conditions should have a fair share of that money.
Multiple business organizations across the country have called for Ottawa to step in with back-to-work legislation, citing concerns over the impact of a strike on the Canadian economy.
It’s unclear when the two sides will talk next, after talks came to a close on late Saturday. The employers association said it’s awaiting further direction from federal mediators.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2023