Canada Secures Port Deal: $15B Global Timber Trade Protected

The ILWU full membership accept the new deal which includes increased wages, benefits and training for workers, and provisions to ensure future labour stability at ports.

Sat 05 Aug 23


Port workers in British Columbia have accepted a new deal, ending a tumultuous, weeks-long labour dispute that has paralysed industries and supply chains across Canada.

As reported by Wood Central last week, the proposed ‘terms of settlement’ were accepted by the ILWU bargaining team and recommended to the membership for ratification by the ILWU Canada Longshore Caucus. 

Footage courtesy of @CBCVancouver.

The two-day vote closed at 6 p.m. P.T. on Friday.

“The results of the ratification vote for the tentative agreement show 74.66 per cent in favour of accepting the settlement terms,” ILWU president Rob Ashton wrote in a letter posted to the union’s Facebook page shortly before 8 p.m. P.T. on Friday.

The new deal was formally ratified by the union and employers, represented by the B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA), much to the relief of Canada’s Minister of Labour, Seamus O’Regan.

No details on the deal have been released; however, the CDC reports that the new agreement includes increased wages, benefits and training for workers, and provisions to ensure future labour stability at ports.

“As we move forward to implement the terms of the agreement, we are committed to working collaboratively with our labour partners, the federal government and key stakeholders to rebuild the reputation of Canada’s largest gateway,” according to a BCMEA media release.

The approval averts further federal intervention to end the dispute, which shut down more than 30 port terminals and other sites from July 1 to 13, including Canada’s busiest port, Vancouver.

Last Saturday, Minister O’Regan directed the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to determine whether a negotiated settlement or arbitration was still possible after the dock workers union in western Canada rejected a contract.

“This state of uncertainty cannot continue,” he said.

Implications for global forest product supply chains

The strikes have reportedly cost the Canadian economy CAD 500 million per day, with Canadians seeing skyrocketing prices of goods due to disrupted supply routes.

The strike has taken a hefty toll on the port terminals of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, among the world’s busiest ports for forest products.

Earlier this month, strikes at Canada ports were reportedly disrupting $500 million in goods every day.
The Canadian Forest industry has welcomed the end of the strike, which had impacted its billion-dollar export industry.

Wood Central reported that forestry products, pulp and logs, constitute 80% of container shipments at Port Metro Vancouver.

For 13 days, the containers were left unattended at the port – causing havoc for Asian pulp suppliers.

Canfor, one of the world’s largest forest companies, has been hit hard by the strike with “a constrained logistics network in British Columbia”, leading to difficulties in supply.

Last week Canfor reported a USD 37.9 million loss in its pulp division, with the strike adding to “weak fundamentals in the global pulp market.”

Canfor's sprawling operations in Prince George in British Columbia. Canfor is one of the world's largest forests companies supplying pulp and engineered wood products to global markets. (Photo Credit: Supplied from Canfor's Facebook page)
Canfor’s sprawling operations in Prince George in British Columbia. Canfor is one of the world’s largest forest companies supplying pulp and engineered wood products to global markets. (Photo Credit: Supplied from Canfor’s Facebook page)
Rising costs and automation fuelled strikes.

Union leaders have said workers’ key concerns relate to automation and subcontracting, both of which present fundamental challenges to the future of port jobs. 

Last month, McGill University Associate Professor of Sociology Barry Eidlin said the dispute is about more than just “dollars and cents and a pension increase.”

Mr Eidlin said the full membership might not be receptive to the deal, given that issues such as automation and jurisdiction of maintenance work may be “existential” for the long-term viability of these workers’ jobs.

According to data obtained by Goldman Sachs, transportation and material moving is amongst the industries most impacted by AI-driven automation.

O’Regan and Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez have welcomed the result.

“This is good news for the employer, the union, and the many workers and businesses across Canada that rely on our B.C. ports,” they said in a joint statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

Goldman Sachs ‘ranked’ various industries from most impacted to least impacted. According to the research, up to 40% of transportation and material moving workers will have between 10-49% of work duties replaced by A.I. (Image credit: Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research)
Tumultuous negotiations

The agreement ends a period of turmoil for the Canadian business community.  

A previous tentative deal halted the first strike. 

Still, since then, the fate of any agreement has see-sawed wildly, with union leaders rejecting the deal and briefly sending workers back to pickets on July 18 before that move was deemed illegal by the CIRB the next day.

The ILWU issued a new 72-hour strike notice only to rescind it hours later, then announced it would recommend the original deal to members in a full vote.

But members rejected it on July 28, triggering O’Regan’s order for the industrial relations board to help both reach an agreement.

No strike action had been taken since the brief stoppage on July 18.

As the dispute dragged on, costing several industries billions of dollars and leaving valuable cargo stranded on ships arriving at B.C.’s ports, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced calls from political leaders and business groups to legislate port workers back to work. 

Patience is waning as the threat of industrial action has a lasting impact on Canadian trade—footage courtesy of @globalnews.

“Businesses in Greater Vancouver and across the country are breathing a sigh of relief that ports and supply chains are returning to normal,” said Greater Vancouver Board of Trade President Bridgitte Anderson in a Friday news release.

The board estimates $10.7 billion of trade was disrupted during the strike, and Anderson said the federal government needs more options to end future labour disruptions that can significantly impact the national economy.

O’Regan said he had directed federal officials to review how the dispute was handled to avoid similar disruptions to workers and businesses in the future.

“We do not want to be back here again,” he and Rodriguez said in their joint statement Friday.


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    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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