Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Canadian Dockers' Contract Talks Causing Cargo Diversions to US Says Employers Group

As mediated talks continue between Canadian West Coast dockers and their industry employers, merely the potential of a strike at the ports of Vancouver, Deltaport, Frazierport and Prince Rupert is already beginning to impact import shipping volumes at the Canadian West Coast ports.

Greg Vurdela, spokesman for the BC Maritime Employers Association, which represents the dockworker employers, told The Province newspaper last week that a "significant percentage" of cargo is already being diverted to American West Coast ports.

"The heightened uncertainty in [Canada's] Asia-Pacific Gateway has left customers with no choice," Vurdela told the paper. "Unfortunately, cargo is now being off-loaded at US ports. The diversions started several weeks ago."

The contract between the BC Maritime Employers Association and two ILWU units representing about 4,800 Canadian dockers expired March 31, 2010. A 21-day cooling off period is scheduled to expire on Feb. 6 with new negotiations set to start on Feb. 7. The mediated talks are set to last until Feb. 12.

Shippers, however, have a long memory. It is hard to forget the more than a dozen labor-related disruption at the Port of Vancouver, BC, alone over the past 50 years, including strikes in 1995 and 1998, a lockout in 1999, and a truckers strike in 2005 that saw unionized truck drivers walk off the job for six weeks.

Vurdela said that cargo imports into Canadian West Coast ports is down 30 to 40 percent due to the industry's anxiety.

And this anxiety may be well placed. While the union has remained mum on the status of the contract talks, the BC Maritime Employers Association reports that the two sides are not close.