A strike by 7,400 workers paralyzes 30 Canadian ports | International

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Personnel from the port of Vancouver (Canada) demonstrate on July 6.DARRYL DYCK (AP)

Since last Saturday, some 7,400 workers - mostly stevedores - have been on strike in 30 ports in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The strike especially affects the port terminals of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, the first and third in importance in this North American country. Negotiations are at a standstill and, given the impact on trade, various voices are calling for a special law to end the conflict.

After the expiration of their collective contract on March 31, the strikers are asking for wage increases in line with inflation. Also, greater protection against automation and subcontracting in the sector. "We had to take this step for the future of our workforce," Rob Ashton, president of the Canadian chapter of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, said on Sunday, stressing that it had been 30 years since its members had gone on strike in this province of Pacific Rim. On Thursday, he stated that the employers' representatives have already withdrawn three times from the table and accused them of trying to "wait for the government to do the dirty work." “They don't want to treat us with respect,” he said. For its part, the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association indicated that binding arbitration could end the dispute.

The conversations between the union and the employer have been thorny in these days of strike, meetings where mediators from the federal government also participate. After certain advances, aspects related to maintenance tasks once again froze the dialogue channels. Both parties are accused of bad faith.

According to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, close to 25% of the total goods that the country trades each year pass through these ports; about 800 million Canadian dollars (600 million US) for each day of normal activities. Cruise ships have not been affected by the strike; neither is the transport of grain, as established by the Canadian Labor Code.

On April 26, 2021, more than 1,000 workers at the port of Montreal (the second largest in the country) went on strike. Four days later, the Canadian Parliament adopted a special law for the return to work activities. Various associations and provincial governments are asking federal legislators to repeat the strategy in British Columbia.

The Government of Alberta - a province whose trade depends on these ports - asks that Ottawa protect supply chains. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said in a statement that “legislation is urgently needed to ensure that port activities can continue even in the event of a strike. The Government must use all the means at its disposal to end it quickly”.

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The federal Minister of Labor, Seamus O'Regan, indicated for his part that the best solution is for the union and employers to resume negotiations and talk until they reach an agreement. Parliamentary work went on hiatus on June 21 and, according to the official calendar, it will only resume on September 18. However, the government of Justin Trudeau can call an extraordinary session in the event that he considers voting on a special law regarding this labor dispute. Because Trudeau's Liberals rule in a minority, they would need to have the support of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Quebecois Bloc or the New Democratic Party to push the project forward.

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