only recently (March 2009) ratified the current agreement, but with it's expiry date coming up at the end of March, the Federal Government is taking steps to try and keep the freight flowing through British Columbia's ports as the negotiation process begins anew.
With a history of long and at times confrontational negotiations to look back on, Mediators Ted Hughes and John Rooney, have been tasked to navigate the labour negotiations to come in order to avoid any disruption to the tentative economic recovery for the West coast shipping industry.
Five different locals are currently at the bargaining tables, including the one representing Prince Rupert's waterfront workers through the ILWU Local, their current agreement comes to an end at the end of March.
All told the various locals represent some 3000 workers on the British Columbia waterfront, responsible for the handling of the vast majority of shipping that passes through BC's ports on its way to other destinations in the province, across the nation and into the United States.
The current talks have reportedly suffered setbacks based on the discussion of discrimination against female employees on the waterfront, a concern that gained more traction with the release of a report from Vince Ready, which outlined a “hostile culture” on the province's docks for women workers, identifying a number of major concerns requiring resolution.
Both sides it seems have taken the discussion to the finger pointing stage, with each suggesting that the other is seemingly holding back progress on the issue. The union outlining how it has spent some 1 million dollars in pursuit of ongoing harassment grievances, while the British Columbia Marine Employers Agency which represents the ports in BC advising that the case is on stream with the Canadian Human Rights Commission after the employers stated that the unions have refused to address long standing gender discrimination on the waterfront.
Whether the contentious issue becomes a potential roadblock to waterfront peace remains to be seen, but that's the task ahead for both Hughes and Rooney, who will try to fashion some kind of consensus among the two sides and keep the negotiations on track and the freight flowing through the ports.
Globe and Mail-- Ottawa appoints labour mediators for B.C. ports