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Exporters want law to limit future disruptions as B.C. port strike continues

Group wants ports and rail lines designated as essential infrastructure
Striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada workers picket at a port entrance in Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, July 4, 2023. The strike at more than 30 British Columbia ports entered its fourth day on Tuesday after 7,400 port workers walked off the job on the weekend. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Groups representing Canadian businesses want the federal government to intervene in the ongoing labour strike at British Columbia ports, with one organization calling for legal changes that would discourage future disruptions.

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters says designating ports and rail lines as essential infrastructure and limiting when and where labour and other disruptions can occur would provide manufacturers the stability they need.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade is meanwhile asking Ottawa to “use every tool at its disposal” to ensure a deal is struck to resume activity at city’s port, including back-to-work legislation, if necessary.

The strike of more than 7,000 workers at ports across the province is in its fourth day after talks between the two sides stalled on Monday.

Representatives for the BC Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada negotiated over the long weekend, before the association issued a statement saying it didn’t think more bargaining would produce a deal.

The association said Tuesday that negotiations were “paused, pending further discussion with the federal mediators.”

The union has meanwhile accused the association of changing its position on a key issue at the last minute to “muddy the waters.”

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said in a Tweet that federal mediators “continue to support” both sides in the negotiations.

“We encourage both parties to immediately return to the bargaining table and remain there until a deal is reached,” he said. “Collective bargaining is hard work but it’s how the best, most resilient deals are made.”

News of a strike at the ports, including Canada’s largest, the Port of Vancouver, has led many business groups to raise red flags, suggesting job action would have far-reaching implications for Canada’s economy.

“A strike of this magnitude not only disrupts the Canadian economy but damages our global trading reputation, hurts already fragile supply chains, and puts jobs at risk,” Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters said in a statement Tuesday.

“Given that the federal government understands what is at stake, (Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters) urges them to intervene now to reassure manufacturers that they will not bear the brunt of a labour dispute that is beyond their control,” it said.

The group, which says its members account for about 82 per cent of total manufacturing production and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports, estimates that $500 million worth of goods is being disrupted every day.

READ ALSO: Further negotiations won’t end B.C. port workers strike, employers say