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Shutdown of west coast ports looms under threat of lockout


Vancouver, BC — A spokesman for the association that employs longshoremen at British Columbia ports says the workers will be locked out on Thursday if a negotiated settlement is not reached.

Jeff Scott, chairman of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, says the decision did not come lightly considering the potential widespread financial impact could amount to about $5 billion a day across Canada.

Scott says strike notice served last Thursday by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was softened to limited job action involving refusal to work overtime but then escalated to work stoppages.

He says terminals can no longer operate efficiently and safely so the employer has no choice but to consider locking out workers.

Union president Rob Ashton calls the employer’s intentions “reckless, irresponsible and needless.”

Scott says about 7,000 people, including 6,500 longshoremen, would be affected if a collective agreement is not reached after 17 months of bargaining.

He says a mediator has been involved since February but discussions stalled over the weekend and talks broke off early Monday.

Scott says automation is one of the sticking points but the existing agreement supports the association’s ability to automate while protecting workers.

“In the last 10 years we’ve been continually investing in automation and technology and during those years the overall hours have increased by 52 per cent and the total workforce has increased by 34 per cent,” he said Tuesday.

“It’s our belief that automation is needed to keep jobs in Canada. We have to remain competitive. It secures existing jobs, it opens up new employment opportunities in the future and these are well-paying jobs, they’re family supporting jobs.”

However, Ashton says technological changes in port operations have been done without regard for the B.C. economy and the communities that rely on the industry.

“The BCMEA would like the unlimited right to eliminate good jobs that support middle-class families,” he said. “We believe that is not proper or fair for our members or the communities in which they live and work.”

Federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu says a lockout would not affect cruise ships or employees required to service grain vessels under the Canada Labour Code.

She says the government has faith in the collective bargaining process.

“(Transport) Minister Garneau and I have reached out to both parties on numerous occasions to encourage them to reach a deal,” she said in a release.

“I am disappointed an agreement has not been reached and expect both parties to negotiate an agreement as soon as possible.”

She says a federal mediation and conciliation service team is assisting the parties.