B.C. port strike could affect supply chain for months: expert

Hundreds of people gathered at Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver Sunday to show support for port workers who are on strike. Angela Bower reports, they're calling on the employer to negotiate a contract with wages that reflect the union's worth.

An industry expert says for every day the strike at B.C.’s ports continues, it adds about another week to recovery time.

John Coray with the Freight Management Association of Canada says even if the strike ended today, it will be October before port supply chains are back to normal.

“Generally, with a strike, even with the anticipation of a strike, there’s disruption because shippers don’t want to be caught up when the strike actually happens,” he explained.

The consequences are far reaching. He says with imports and exports halted, the dent in Canada’s status also continues to grow on a world stage.

“These goods are not going to the destination that they were promised to so we now have a reputation problem for Canadian producers where people around the world start thinking this is an unreliable source, and they do start looking for other ways to fill their demand,” he explained.

“The only silver lining, if I can even say that, is that grain is not being affected. Under the Grain Act, grain is essential and it cannot go on strike so that commodity is moving.”

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About 7,400 workers at more than 30 B.C. ports have been on strike since Canada Day over issues including pay and provisions related to maintenance work, contracting out, and automation.

Business organizations and some politicians have publicly called for the federal government to bring in back-to-work legislation. However, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan has said negotiations are the way to go.

The two sides were back at the negotiating table Saturday, supported by federal mediators, after talks stalled last Monday.

Coray says people’s jobs are soon going to start to be affected — when storage yards fill because products aren’t going anywhere, production will have to halt.

“In a few days, those yards are going to be full. Then, the next step is they’re going to have to actually shut down plants, whether it’s a sawmill or a mine,” he said.

He tells CityNews he’s already heard of pot ash mines ready to pause until their product can move.

“This is terrible for those companies because, one, they are shut down, second, workers who work there are essentially laid off — they’re not going to pay them while that’s happening,” he said.

B.C. port strike and cost of living

Job action by unionized port workers in B.C. comes as many people continue to grapple with the high cost of living.

Coray says supply chain disruptions have the potential to push consumer prices even higher.

“Canada ships about $800 million a day through the west coast ports, that’s about 25 per cent of the country’s exports. Although it’s not good for consumers and importers, it’s even worse for exporters,” he explained.

The strike also has the attention of B.C. Premier David Eby who says the ongoing situation is a concern for all provinces.

“All of us are unified in the goal that this get resolved as quickly as possible, as knock-on impacts on cost of living for people across the country as goods get more expensive because imports are not available,” he said Tuesday at a meeting of provincial leaders in Manitoba.

He says they are urging the federal government to stay on top of bargaining, with the goal of finding a long-term deal that will prevent these kinds of disruptions in the future.

Information provided by the BC Maritime Employers Association states the median salary for a union longshore worker is $136,000 a year, plus benefits. It notes there has been a 10 per cent wage increase over the last three years since the start of the pandemic.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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