© Stan Jones

As the strike by dockworkers at the Canadian west coast ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert enters a fourth day, the language between the negotiators has become increasingly acrimonious.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) contract with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) expired in March, but talks over a new agreement were overshadowed by the long-running, often fraught negotiations on the US west coast between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the ILWU.

A “tentative” new deal was eventually struck there last month, following conciliation by US labor secretary Julie Su.

As well as disagreement on pay, the main sticking point in the Canadian negotiations revolves around maintenance work on terminals, which appears to be a red line for the BCMEA negotiators.

The first angry shot across the bows came from the employer group which said: “ILWU Canada is attempting to aggressively expand their scope and redefine regular maintenance work far beyond what is set out in the industry-wide agreement, which has been legally well established for decades.

“Changing this definition would result in immediate and significant impacts to terminal operations,” alleged the BCMEA, and added  that the ILWU had “left no further avenues to reach a deal”.

Clearly piqued by the BCMEA statement, ILWU Canada president Rob Ashton penned a stinging response via media channels saying the union hoped the employers association was “not using its vast resources and connections to vilify the union and scare the public with tales of economic disaster”.

He said: “We implore the BCMEA to get back to the table to achieve a fair and reasonable agreement that the parties negotiate together. It is unrealistic to think that a collective agreement that is imposed will result in long-term labour stability in the industry. The parties need to put their best effort forward for the entire country and not just their individual aims.”

Meanwhile, with ocean carriers holding off ships or changing rotations, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has called on the government to intervene in the dispute.

its VP, Robin Guy, said: “The government should immediately recall Parliament to pass back-to-work legislation to protect the livelihoods of Canadian workers and the health of Canadian businesses affected by disruption to more than C$800m (US$605m) worth of cargo flowing through west coast ports every single day.”

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