B.C. port labour talks to resume Feb. 12

(Resource News International) — Federally appointed mediators have set Feb. 12-13 as the next dates for contract negotiations between Local 514 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of Canada (ILWU) and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA).

The two groups have been trying for months to draft a new collective agreement and avoid a strike at B.C.’s busy Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert ports.

The local’s members, roughly 450 ship and dock foremen, have been without a contract since March 2008. Since then, efforts to reach a labour agreement have been unsuccessful, including an intense round of negotiations which began in December after the local threatened to issue a 72-hour strike notice at the beginning of January.

In the event of a strike, it’s expected that more than 5,000 other ILWU members would support Local 514 by joining the picket line.

Some companies that rely on the busy West Coast gateways to transport goods in and out of Canada have been diverting their freight away from B.C. since the threat of a strike in January first emerged.

However, the Jan. 26 resumption of the House of Commons following a seven-week suspension has taken some of the uncertainty out of the situation.

If a strike were to occur now, the union’s members could be legislated back to work by the federal government, a move they have supported in the past.

Container truckers

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Container Trucking Association-Canadian Auto Workers (VCTA-CAW) Local 2006 said the union will continue to hold off on a strike vote that had been planned for the end of January.

The 750-member local represents truckers, including many owner/operators, who haul containers at B.C.’s Lower Mainland ports. The union is in the middle of contract renegotiations with the trucking companies that employ their members, but the union’s main grievances are the lax enforcement of previously established pay rates and a moratorium on port passes for owner/operators.

The union’s decision not to hold a strike vote follows measures announced late last week by Port Metro Vancouver and the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure that stiffen penalties for companies found in non-compliance with rules of the truck licensing system (TLS) that was created in 2005 at the request of the federal government.

Under the system, all companies looking to haul containers to or from port facilities must be approved for a TLS license before they are granted access to port property. In return for a license, the trucking companies are obliged, among other things, to pay established rates to container truck drivers in the Lower Mainland.

The steps announced last week include more audits to ensure companies are complying with the terms of the TLS, as well as stricter penalties and sanctions for non-complying companies.

“We’re pleased that the province is taking steps to address our complaints. Right now we’ve postponed out strike vote because of that. As long as we’re seeing that we’re actually moving in the right direction, how can we take a strike vote? We’re just going to see how everything unfolds moving forward,” said Paul Uppal, the business agent for VCTA-CAW.

Uppal noted, though, that the steps only address the union’s complaint of pay rates being undercut. The moratorium on port passes for owner/operators is still in place and must also be dealt with, he said.

“The moratorium is stopping new owner/operators from coming in and the long and short of it is that is seems like an effort to get rid of owner/operators overall,” Uppal said.

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