B.C. port strike has disrupted nearly $9B in trade: business, industry groups

A major business and industry group says the ongoing B.C. port strike has disrupted $8.9 billion worth of trade. As Monika Gul reports, this comes after the federal government appointed a mediator to end the labour dispute.

The ongoing B.C. port strike has disrupted nearly $9 billion worth of trade, major business and industry groups say.

That’s according to a Port Shutdown Calculator unveiled by organizations including the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBoT), Canadian Federation of Independent Business, BC Chamber of Commerce, and mining and forestry groups Wednesday, which shows job action has already affected $8.9 billion.

“Every single hour and every single day that this labour dispute goes on, we are putting our international reputation at risk, we are putting jobs at risk, and it’s also hurting our economy,” GVBoT President and CEO Bridgitte Anderson said.

Tuesday night, Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan announced a mediator was asked to draft up recommendations within 24 hours and provide them to the bargaining parties.

Government sources tell CityNews the recommendations were handed over to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) Wednesay at 10:30 a.m. The ILWU and BCMEA have 24 hours to decide whether or not to ratify the terms to their principals.

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The business and industry groups are pushing for job action to end, asking for back-to-work legislation if mediation fails.

“It is encouraging to see this first step after 12 days. We have been calling, along with my colleagues, since the beginning of the dispute for the federal government to use every tool in its toolbox. So this is a positive first step, but there is no guarantee that this is going to end quickly if either side opts out,” Anderson said.

While she’s hoping for the best with regard to mediation, she’s clear the situation needs to be resolved.

“If either side opts out, it could be another $1.6 billion and continue to rise. Also, I think it’s important to note that even if there is a swift resolution to this labour dispute, it is going to take a number of days for things to get back to normal, for operations to resume and get back to normal,” she said.

“So it is imperative that action is taken quickly to bring this to an end.”

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.

The ongoing labour disruptions have led to major supply chain concerns.

Michael Goehring, president and CEO of the Mining Association of British Columbia, says the strike has already had a huge impact on that industry.

“First, the strike is disrupting the inbound delivery of key supplies and materials for our members’ operations. This includes new equipment or other materials for capital projects, and other equipment and materials for the ongoing operations of our mines,” he explained.

“Second, from an export perspective, each mining or smelting operation in B.C. is impacted somewhat differently by the strike due to the factors, such as the commodity being mined, the location of the site, and the transportation mode being used to ship the commodity.”

He says some sites have been able to divert shipments to other ports. However, others don’t have the same options.

Goehring admits the longer the strike continues, the possibility of shutdowns and temporary layoffs grows.

BC Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Fiona Famulak echoes many of the concerns that have been raised by business leaders.

She says the impact of the continued shutdown is “untenable.”

“Businesses are nervous, manufacturers are waiting for product to fulfill summer and fall orders, everything from raw materials to glassware, to steel for rebar. Retailers are waiting for fall and Christmas inventory,” she explained.

On Tuesday, O’Regan said the gap between the positions of the ILWU and BCMEA was “not sufficient to justify a continued work stoppage.”

A good deal is “within reach” for both the union and employer, he added.

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