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B.C. port strike back on as union leaders reject deal

Vancouver—Port workers in British Columbia are back on the picket lines after union leadership rejected a deal proposed by federal mediators.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada rejected the offer Tuesday saying it doesn’t believe the recommendations made would protect jobs in the future.

“Our position since day one has been to protect our jurisdiction and this position has not changed,” a statement from the union reads.

It said the port workers were back on the picket lines late Tuesday afternoon and the proposed deal was rejected by the union’s caucus. Among the reasons given was the term of the collective agreement the settlement laid out was too long, the statement said.

The vast majority of ports in the province ground to a halt for 13 days earlier this month after the union, which represents 7,400 workers at more than 30 terminals around the province, began a strike after negotiations hit an impasse.

A large chunk of Canada’s foreign trade goes through ports in B.C.

Sticking points in the labour dispute with the BC Maritime Employers Association were wages, automation and contracting out work. The association released a statement slamming the union leadership for rejecting the deal.

“The proposed four-year collective agreement settlement package, that ILWU internal leadership rejected, included considerable hikes in wages and benefits over and above the 10 per cent increase received over the past three years,” it read.

Last week, Ottawa asked federal mediators to draft a deal to end the strike and forwarded it to both sides to ratify. The tentative deal put an end to the labour action and the terminals were up and running again.

The intervention came after calls for Ottawa to put an end to the strike became louder from business and industry groups. The BCMEA chastised the union’s leadership for rejecting the deal.

“This fair and comprehensive package could not satisfy some of ILWU internal caucus leadership,” its statement reads, “and in rejecting this tentative agreement, ILWU leadership is choosing to further harm Canada’s economy, international reputation and most importantly, to Canadians, their livelihoods and all those that rely on a stable supply chain.”

But the union said the employers have made record profits in recent years and the deal does not address their cost of living concerns.

Ottawa has declined to speak about the latest development.

“Ratification processes are between the employer and the union, and we do not comment on them. The minister will receive formal notice from the parties when the vote is complete, and the results will be made public shortly after,” federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan’s office said in a statement.

The minister told the Star last week he was “confident” both sides would successfully reach a deal after he pushed for a recommended settlement to end the dispute. At the time, he dodged questions about whether he would take the controversial step of introducing back-to-work legislation should either side choose not to ratify the terms of the deal.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, has asked the federal government to reconvene Parliament to deal with the labour dispute by passing back-to-work legislation.

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel


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