Still no breakthrough in B.C. port labour talks

(Resource News International) — Companies that had hoped for an end to uncertainty caused by the ongoing threat of a strike at B.C.’s busiest ports saw their hopes frustrated again as another weekend came and went without news of a collective agreement for roughly 450 dock and ship workers employed at B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Price Rupert ports.

The British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) and representatives for Local 514 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) of Canada met with a federally-appointed mediator on Friday to respond to contract proposals exchanged on Jan. 16.

“Notwithstanding this effort, no further progress has been made. The mediator will be in contact with both parties to set up further dates,” Greg Vurdela, BCMEA vice-president of marketing and information services, wrote in an update.

The union’s members have been without a contract since March 2008. Since then, efforts to reach a new collective agreement have been unsuccessful, including the latest intense round of negotiations which began in December after Local 514 threatened to issue a 72-hour strike notice at the beginning of January.

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

Truckers hold off

Meanwhile, Local 2006 of the Vancouver Container Truck Association/Canadian Auto Workers (VCTA/CAW) union decided to hold off on a strike vote that was supposed to have taken place on Sunday (Jan. 25).

The 750-member local represents truckers who haul containers at the Port of Vancouver. After the expiration of their old contract on Dec. 31, 2008, they require new collective agreements but are also calling for stricter enforcement of pay rates established in 2005.

Also at the top of the union’s agenda is a request for a moratorium on passes which allow drivers to enter the port.

According to CAW Local 2006 president Paul Johal, the Vancouver Port Authority is currently only issuing port passes to company-owned vehicles, with “the express purpose of eliminating owner-operators.”

The passes are a big problem for the large portion of the local’s members, who own and operate their own trucks as opposed to driving a company-owned vehicle.

Paul Uppal, the business agent for VCAT/CAW Local 2006, said the decision to put off the strike vote was made after B.C.’s provincial government said it was looking at ways to address both of the union’s main grievances.

The government is expected to announce the steps it plans to take at the end of the week, at which point Uppal said the union will decide on its next course of action depending on what it hears.

A strike by either VCTA/CAW or ILWU, or a lockout by the employers, would disrupt container traffic at some of Canada’s busiest international gateways. The impact would have serious implications for exporters of pulse and specialty crops, which move by container. Bulk grain movement, meanwhile, would continue in the event of a strike.

In the meantime, trade sources say vessels are already being diverted away from Canada’s West Coast to alternative and competing ports.

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