As of July 1, 2023, more than 7,000 port workers across British Columbia went on strike.
By Mitch Rezansoff
As of July 1, 2023, more than 7,000 port workers across British Columbia went on strike. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union of Canada (ILWU) members initiated the walk-off after the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) and federally mediated talks failed to resolve it. Federal mediators reengaged the ILWU with two tentative agreements on July 15, only to be rejected by the membership days later and walk off.
The original offer was tabled the week of July 24, with member votes scheduled for July 27 and 28.
Here is where we stand at the time of writing:
According to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, a quarter of our goods move through these ports, touching every aspect of the economy and was worth an estimated $350 billion last year alone. This strike fuels inflation, increases costs for Canadian families and businesses, and severely damages the economy, both locally and nationally. The port of Vancouver is Canada’s gateway to the east, handling trade with China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. Around $800 million in goods move through BC ports per day.
This port strike now paints Canada as an unreliable trading partner as future disruptions relating to labour become a pattern.
For every week that the strike continues, Canada could lose $5.5 billion.
The Railway Association of Canada estimates it could take three to five days for supply chains to recover every day the port is shuttered. The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade said there were 63,000 shipping containers stuck on vessels waiting at BC ports to be unloaded when the strike was initiated. Canadian consumers, manufacturers, and farmers will feel the impact of a lack of materials, products, and logistics backlogs.
What about the 7,000+ ILWU workers on strike? Do they genuinely benefit from being off work for 3+ weeks to receive a nominal salary increase taxed at a disproportional rate? A report published by the Fraser Institute in 2017 provides insights into the economic effects of banning temporary replacement workers. British Columbia and Quebec are the only two provinces that refuse to hire temporary workers to replace existing employees participating in a legal labour strike or lockout.
Depending on your seat, employees have a distinct advantage in negotiating with employers in these provinces.
At the same time, both parties are financially impacted; it is up for debate what the level of burden will be in the long term for each. Investments in tools, equipment, and technology increase worker productivity.
Productivity equals value per hour produced and is closely tied to the compensation a worker can demand. Unions are pressuring for higher wages; the short-term benefit is in the long run. Investments lead to more job opportunities, not less. In addition, consider that from 2008 to 2016, British Columbia and Quebec, which both maintain the ban, have had the highest number of workdays lost due to stoppages (strikes and lockouts) among Canadian provinces.
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