Business and government are responding favourably to a possible breakthrough in the 12-day strike that has shut down all ports along the British Columbia coast.
Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan has given a federal mediator 24 hours to send him recommendations to end the dispute between the BC Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada.
O’Regan will forward the recommendations to the two sides and says they’ll have a further 24 hours to decide whether to ratify them.
A statement from Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, says his organization welcomes the federal government’s action.
Alberta premier Danielle Smith said in a tweet Tuesday night that she appreciates O’Regan’s efforts to end the strike and hopes for a resolution within 48 hours.
The union and employers association have not commented on the minister’s intervention, although the association confirmed the notice from O’Regan’s office arrived late Tuesday afternoon, potentially starting the 24-hour clock.
About 7,400 dock workers have been on strike since July 1, halting cargo in and out of more than 30 ports in B.C., including Vancouver, Canada’s busiest port.
Pickets remained at B.C. ports Wednesday and, although Beatty’s statement expressed approval of O’Regan’s action, it was also terse.
“We have been calling for immediate intervention from the federal government and urge them to ensure they pursue a course of action that brings an end to this strike as swiftly as possible, preventing further impacts on Canadian families, Canadian businesses, and the Canadian economy,” Beatty said in the release.
The call for recommendations from the federal mediator brought a stern reaction from the United Truckers Association.
“The UTA is warning the federal government of potential escalation of disruption should they consider any kind of imposition of settlement,” the association said in a news release.
Spokesman Gagan Singh said the association’s members “continue to suffer” from what he called the failure of the federal government to fulfil the commitments of an imposed settlement in 2014 and he warned O’Regan “not to make the same mistake.”
O’Regan ordered the federal mediator to submit recommendations, saying the gap between the positions of the BC Maritime Employers Association and the longshore union is “not sufficient to justify a continued work stoppage.”
A good deal is “within reach” for both the union and the BC Maritime Employers Association, he said, adding it was in the interests of all sides that an agreement is reached as soon as possible.
“The scale of this disruption shows how important the relationship between the BCMEA and the ILWU is to our national interest,” O’Regan said in the statement shared on Twitter.
“We cannot allow this work stoppage to persist and risk further damage to the relationship between these parties.”
The union has said key issues include improved wages, jurisdiction over maintenance and protections against contracting out and automation.