Saturday, January 03, 2009

Down to the final words in the port dispute?

The original deadline has come and gone, the two sides took a few days off over the New Years Eve/Day festivities to rest up for the next session and starting this morning at nine thirty, the two sides of the Port supervisors dispute will sit down at a negotiating table to see if they can resolve their differences without a work stoppage.

As we have outlined on the blog over the last few weeks, organizations across the North from Initiatives Prince George to the Port of Prince Rupert have weighed in with their concerns over the possibility of a shutdown of the Ports of British Columbia and in particular over what damage could be caused to the Port of Prince Rupert, having only recently become one of the talked about destinations in the world of transportation and shipping.

Progress was reported on some of the key issues as the original deadline approached on January 2nd, and from that progress came the scheduled talks of Saturday, what remains to be seen is if there is enough common ground to allow them to continue until a settlement is reached, or if the Port of Prince Rupert finds itself behind a picket line by next week.

The Daily News featured the latest developments as the front page, headline story in Friday's paper.

By Monica Lamb-Yorski
The Daily News
Friday, January 02, 2009
Pages one and two

Fingers are crossed that resumed negotiations taking place tomorrow between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Local 514 and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) with two federally appointed mediators, will result in a settlement, avoiding a strike or lockout that would drastically affect Prince Rupert and Vancouver ports.

Local 514 has been without a contract since March 2007 and is in a legal position to issue strike notice as of Jan. 2.

If the union, representing 450 ship and dock foremen - 11 in Prince Rupert - does strike, 5,000 port workers - 200 in Prince Rupert - are expected to walk off the job in support.
Issues on the table include pension payments and working conditions.

In a telephone conversation, the office administrator at the ILWU 514 office in Vancouver said the union was not issuing further statements as of this morning, but did confirm that the two sides will resume negotiations tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m.

According to a Canadian Press article dated Dec. 29, only grain shipments would be guaranteed in the event of a disruption, because they are protected by federal law.

"Specialty crops that move by containers are not covered by the law," the article stated.

In past strikes, workers have been legislated back to work, but with Canada's parliament temporarily suspended, federal action would not be possible until after Jan. 27 when parliament resumes.

According to Lloyd's List, the potential strike has already induced some shippers to divert cargo away from Prince Rupert to the U.S. Pacific Northwest ports of Seattle and Tacoma.
Prince Rupert Port Authority's president and CEO Don Krusel voiced concern about the potential impact of unresolved negotiations in a letter to Minister of Labour Rona Ambrose, dated Dec. 22.

"A labour disruption would likely result in the long-term loss of hard-won trade through Canadian West Coast ports, which may never be recovered. Canadian importers and exporters, already reeling from the global economic turbulence that is eroding their financial health, will be forced to find alternate, more expensive shipping routes," wrote Krusel.

"This domino effect would result in significant job losses and adversely impact families across this new northern Canadian trade corridor as well as the Canadian economy," Krusel stated.
Tim McEwan, president and CEO of Initiatives Prince George Development Corporation, echoed Krusel's concerns in a letter to Minister Ambrose, composed on New Year's Eve.

"Initiatives Prince George has very strongly supported the development of the Fairview Container Terminal [at] the Port of Prince Rupert in opening up Northern British Columbia as a new international trade corridor that will catalyze job and wealth creation," stated McKewan on behalf of the Economic Development Authority for the City of Prince George .

"Prince George's opportunities moving forward are based on the investment community's continuing confidence in Northern British Columbia corridor opportunities."

McKewan said investor confidence levels will be strongly influenced by the level of services provided by the port, which, to date has been superior.

"Volumes have been building in recent months at the Port of Prince Rupert," McKewan added.
Both Krusel and McEwan have asked the federal government to actively work to prevent disruptions at the ports in Prince Rupert and Vancouver. In addition, Krusel stated the Prince Rupert Port Authority would appreciate the federal government's "consideration for structural changes, either through essential service legislation or amalgamating the two ILWU entities into one council, to avoid similar future potential disruptions."

A telephone call to Minister Ambrose's office indicated her office will open again on Jan. 5. She could not be reached for comment.

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