Source: Port of Vancouver.
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  • The union representing 7,400 workers from more than 30 British Columbia ports rescinded a strike notice on July 19 issued mere hours before
  • The move follows the union’s rejection of a tentative four-year deal on July 13
  • The next phase in the dispute remains to be seen, with tens of billions in trade and Canadian GDP figures hanging in the balance

A labour dispute at over 30 British Columbia ports took an unexpected turn Wednesday after the union representing some 7,400 workers rescinded a strike notice issued mere hours before.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) confirmed the Wednesday removal in a statement but provided no substantiating reasoning. Striking was slated to resume after 72 hours’ notice on the morning of Saturday, July 20.

The decision follows the union’s refusal on July 13 of what port employers view as a “fair and balanced deal” that “recognizes the skills and efforts of B.C.’s waterfront workforce,” the rejection of which amounts to “doubling down on holding the Canadian economy hostage.”

Port workers, who began their dispute on July 1, are focused on securing higher wages and safeguards against automation and excessive contract-based work.

The failure of the tentative four-year deal has heightened the potential for severe economic disruptions should the strike carry on. As of July 12, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade counted 63,000 shipping containers in line for unloading at B.C. ports representing more than $10 billion in trade. The Port of Vancouver alone processes more than $300 billion in goods per year.

Companies caught in the middle include Nutrien, the world’s largest provider of crop inputs and services, which was forced to curtail potash production.

The ILWU had returned to picket lines on Tuesday after rejecting the tentative deal, but it was forced to disband following a Canadian Industrial Relations Board ruling for a 72-hour notice for the strike to be legal.

At the federal level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has convened an incident response group to consider the evolving situation at B.C. ports. In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said Trudeau spoke with B.C. Premier David Eby and coincided on the need to “ensure the stability” of national supply chains.

While B.C. ports arguably provide an essential service, given the quantity of consumer goods involved, the federal government has yet to enact back-to-work legislation in response to the dispute.

The next stage in this ongoing saga remains uncertain, with the B.C. Maritime Employers Association referring to it as “a fluid and unpredictable situation.”

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