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Employers want arbitrator for maintenance issues as talks resume in B.C. port strike

The B.C. Maritime Employers Association issued a statement on Saturday saying it met with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, suggested having an arbitrator make recommendations.
Striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada workers walk a picket line on a road leading to Deltaport, in Delta, B.C., on Friday, July 7, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — Talks between the two sides in an ongoing port strike in British Columbia have resumed, ending a days-long stretch away from the negotiating table.

The B.C. Maritime Employers Association issued a statement on Saturday evening saying it met with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada and proposed a committee and independent arbitrator to make recommendations related to key sticking points around maintenance work. 

The meeting took place a day before the union is expected to hold a rally in Vancouver in support of the 7,400 workers who walked off the job on Canada Day, in part because the union says its jurisdiction over maintenance is being eroded by the use of contractors.

Talks broke off on Monday, and the association has accused the union of trying to "aggressively expand" its control of maintenance duties beyond what has been established for decades.

Other issues on the table include concerns around pay, the cost of living, and automation.

In its latest statement, the association says an arbitrator could make non-binding recommendations to help parties consider whether union members could perform some or all of the maintenance work in question.

It says their side also proposed increased benefits for casual tradespeople and more apprenticeships, but the union rejected the ideas.

"We believe a deal can be reached if ILWU Canada wants one," the statement says.

"We know that the best deals are made at the table, and this is exactly what we are proposing the parties do."

The union did not immediately release its position on the meeting but has previously accused employers of waiting for the federal government to do their "dirty work" instead of negotiating.

It has said employers enjoyed record high profits for many years, especially during the pandemic, and workers who work under difficult and dangerous conditions should have a fair share of that money.

Multiple business organizations across the country have called for Ottawa to step in with back-to-work legislation, citing concerns over the impact of a strike on the Canadian economy.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan has repeatedly said he believes negotiations are the way to go.

It's unclear when the two sides will talk next. The employers association says it's awaiting further direction from federal mediators.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2023

The Canadian Press