Sunday, December 21, 2008

Slow state of labour negotiations scares off containers from Canadian ports

The good news is that the ILWU and the Marine Employers Association are apparently still talking, the bad news is that even the threat of a labour disruption along Canada's west coast ports has shippers seeking alternative landing spots.

The Vancouver Sun on Friday, outlined how some shipping lines have already decided to move their cargo from destinations in Vancouver or Prince Rupert to other west coast ports in the United States, most likely Seattle and Tacoma.

With negotiations continuing on down to the wire, the ILWU supervisors will be in a legal strike position on January 2, it's that tight deadline that apparently has shippers looking for alternatives, rather than have their cargo stuck behind picket lines for the debut of the new year.

Should there be job action on January 2nd, it will be with great interest that maritime shipping observers watch the Vancouver and Rupert port totals to see if the lost shipments of late December and January will be recovered by the Canadian ports, or if those customers will be lost for the foreseeable future.

From the Podunkian archives:

Bargaining still planned in port dispute
Trouble on the waterfront

Vancouver, Prince Rupert ports lose container traffic as strike looms
By Fiona Anderson

The Vancouver Sun
December 19, 2008

A threatened strike at the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert has already affected container traffic, and the dispute could shut down the ports completely if it is not resolved soon.

Talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents more than 400 foremen at the ports, and their employers, represented by the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, are progressing slowly, an employers' representative said earlier.

And while the two sides were scheduled to meet with a mediator today, the workers will be in a legal strike position on Jan. 2. A strike by the foremen would shut down all activity at the ports, except for the movement of grain.

Some shipping companies have already decided to reroute containers to other ports rather than risking them arriving during a work stoppage, Capt. Stephen Brown, president of the Chamber of Shipping of B.C. said in an interview.

Container ships must declare where they plan to drop off goods before they leave their home port, Brown said. With trips taking 12 or more days, some have chosen to name a destination other than a B.C port for some of their containers.

While Brown did not know exactly how many containers have already been diverted, he suspected Seattle and Tacoma will be the ports that benefit.

"We know for sure that some of the volume is being diverted, the more time-sensitive products are being diverted," Brown said. "We know for sure that some of the big shippers have decided not to take the risk."

And that's a big issue.

"It potentially is a very big issue because the Asia Pacific Gateway is vitally important for the whole country, and not just for British Columbia," Brown said.

The timing is "particularly unfortunate," coming shortly after a large delegation from the Port of Vancouver, the employers' association and the major container terminals returned from a marketing trip to the Far East "promoting the stability and sustainability of the Gateway," Brown said.

The foremen have been without a contract since March 31, 2007. A new contract for rank and file workers -- who had also been without a contract since that date -- was reached earlier this year.

Neither the union nor the employers would discuss what issues were being negotiated, citing a blackout agreement.

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