The on-off strike saga at British Columbia’s ports appears to be over — for now — as workers returned to work Thursday.
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he was “relieved” that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada had withdrawn its strike notice Wednesday and that the union workers were back to work, while saying he was hopeful that both parties can reach an agreement “once and for all.”
“I had run out of patience, just given that we’ve seen disruptions for 13 days,” Alghabra told reporters Thursday in Montreal, where he was making an announcement for a high-frequency rail project.
“I’m relieved to see that the union is back at work. I will continue to monitor the developments and encourage the parties to settle this once and for all and we’ll offer our assistance in any way, shape or form.”
On Wednesday, the union representing about 7,400 workers abruptly rescinded a strike notice hours after issuing it.
The ILWU said in a statement that it had “removed” the strike notice it issued earlier that same day, but gave no reasons or details behind the decision in what the BC Maritime Employers Association calls “a fluid and unpredictable situation.”
Previously, the ILWU issued a 72-hour notice that member workers would relaunch a strike at B.C. ports on Saturday morning, after it rejected a tentative four-year deal on Tuesday that temporarily halted strike action on July 13.
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The ILWU initially relaunched its strike on Tuesday immediately after announcing its caucus had rejected the tentative deal reached by negotiators last week, but it removed picket lines and workers were forced to return to work a day later after the Canadian Industrial Relations Board ruled they needed to give 72-hour notice for the strike to be legal.
Alghbara said he was not aware of any ongoing negotiations, but said he will continue to offer support to the parties to “finalize a deal.”
“The best way to resolve this is through an agreement by the parties and I’m hoping that yesterday’s move is a sign towards that,” he said.
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“The Canadian economy can no longer withstand more disruption to our supply chains.”
Amid the back and forth, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened the Incident Response Group — which is typically gathered at times of “national crisis” — to discuss the labour disruptions at B.C.’s ports.
Trudeau also spoke with B.C. Premier David Eby about the labour dispute and agreed on the need to “ensure the stability” of national supply chains, according to a summary of the call released by the Prime Minister’s Office.
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The strike originally started on July 1 and ran for 13 days, shutting down or severely disrupting operations at the more than 30 B.C. port terminals and other sites where ILWU members work — including Vancouver, the country’s largest port.
The shutdown has sent ripple effects from coast to coast, with a national trade group warning last week that the recovery could take “several months.”
— with files from The Canadian Press
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