Canadian Port Strikes

August 7, 2023

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Update on Canadian Port Strikes

Latest News: Tentative agreement reached

The British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) has received official confirmation that the voting membership of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU Canada) has approved the negotiated tentative agreement, which was facilitated with the assistance of the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

The BCMEA already ratified this agreement on July 31st. This agreement resulted from five months of negotiations, conciliation, and mediation, as well as five weeks of labor disruptions at ports in British Columbia.

Delays and disruptions are expected in the following weeks, and the BCMEA acknowledges and laments the far-reaching impacts this labor disruption has had on the national economy, workers, businesses, and, ultimately, all Canadians who rely on a smooth and dependable supply chain.

We will closely monitor the negotiations and communicate further updates if necessary.

Previous updates

The Majority of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of Canada members voted in favor of accepting the terms of the tentative agreement with West Coast ports management.

On the 18th July, the International Longshore and Workers Union issued the following statement

"The ILWU Canada Longshore Caucus has voted down the Mediators Recommended Terms of Settlement. The ILWU Canada Longshore Caucus does not believe the recommendations had the ability to protect our jobs now or into the future. Our position since day one has been to protect our jurisdiction and this position has not changed.

With the record profits that the BCMEA’s member companies have earned over the last few years the employers have not addressed the cost of living issues that our workers have faced over the last couple of years as all workers have.

The term of the collective agreement that was given with today’s uncertain times, is far too long. We must be able to readdress the uncertainty in the world’s financial markets for our members.

On July 18, 2023, as of 16:30 the ILWU Canada Longshore Division will be back on the picket line for a fair and negotiated collective agreement."

As of Friday, July 14th, CPKC removed restrictions for the Port of Vancouver with restrictions at a few terminals. CPKC is in the process of updating the system to allow for in-gate. While the ports in British Columbia are expected to resume operations soon, the impact on the movement of U.S. imports through the Canadian gateways is expected to linger.

Customers are advised to pick up imports from the ramps as soon as possible to keep the ramps fluid and to reduce any possible congestion at the terminals. The carriers already have pre-staged equipment to expedite the resumption of operations upon the conclusion of the strike action. CN expects most ramps to receive empties and exports again between 48-72 hrs. CPKC is reviewing its plans for re-opening inland terminals and acceptances and the vessel schedule updates. Please check with your carrier and rail service providers for their latest updates.

The Federal Labor Minister has invoked his statutory powers under the Canada Labor Code and has named a Mediator to draft the terms of a recommended settlement within 24 hours. After such time, the Labor Minister will share the proposal with both sides (Employer/ILWU) and will provide another 24 hours for them to review and communicate such proposal with their members for ratification.

Picket lines remain at the Container Terminals, and all marine terminal cargo operations stay shut down. Pickets continued to be respectful, and no incidents were reported. Cruise Ships and Grain and Coal facilities continue to be served as usual with the continued commitment from ILWU leadership.

Warehouse spaces are reportedly reaching their maximum capacity, and CFS stations are closely monitoring the dwell time for all shipments exceeding their allotted free time. For shipments that are at CFS locations, additional charges are expected to apply due to rail/carrier delays or vessel omissions that are beyond control.

The strike at Canada's largest Pacific ports, Vancouver, and Prince Rupert, continued into its second week, resulting in a halt to operations and a growing backlog of ships at anchorages. Rail operations serving the United States have also been significantly impacted.

Delays are expected at Vancouver and Prince Rupert ports as ships begin to pile up at anchorages, and rail operations serving the U.S. have effectively halted. Some container vessels destined for Vancouver have adjusted their port rotations to include a stop at Seattle before returning to Vancouver. There are also confirmed cases of vessels omitting Canadian ports altogether and only calling at U.S. west coast ports. Several vessels are currently waiting at anchor off Vancouver and Prince Rupert. According to port data, 51 ships were either berthed or at anchor near Vancouver, including at the Port of Vancouver. The Prince Rupert Port Authority stated that two of the seven terminals at Prince Rupert had been affected.

The restrictions that were placed last week remain the same. Ocean carriers are limiting export bookings and not releasing empties from Vancouver and Prince Rupert until further notice. Additional changes in rotation and port calls are also expected until the issue is resolved.

The situation remains uncertain, and there is a sense of anticipation among industry stakeholders.

Members of Canada’s ILWU port worker union have been on strike since July 1st, shutting down operations at Vancouver and Prince Rupert ports and putting pressure on port operators to agree on terms for a new contract.

On July 3rd, the port employers stated that ILWU Canada went on strike over demands that were and continue to be outside any reasonable framework for settlement. Given the foregoing mentioned, the BCMEA is of the view that a continuation of bargaining at this time is not going to produce a collective agreement. Although negotiations between the parties have been ongoing since June 28th with the aid of federal mediators, as of July 5th, no agreement has been reached between ILWU and BCMEA from bargaining under FMCS.

As reported in CL 11546, the Port has implemented a suite of measures to manage arrivals and anchorage assignments, as per below:  

  • Inner Harbor: Maximum stay of 48 hours will be strictly enforced, and assignment will be limited to bunkering, fumigation, staging area, or emergencies.
  • English Bay and Indian Arm: The maximum stay limit of 7 days will be lifted. All anchorages will be reserved to support operations at terminals not affected by strike activity, partly loaded vessels that are delayed due to labor action, and larger vessels that can only be accommodated in English Bay.
  • Southern Gulf Islands: These anchorages will be assigned per the Interim protocol for waiting vessels; a balanced use of these anchorages across the South Coast BC region and commodity sectors will be ensured. 

Please note, currently, carriers are placing limitations on export bookings and not releasing empties from Vancouver and Prince Rupert until further notice. Changes in rotation and port calls are also being announced by various ocean carriers.

Strike Action at Canadian Ports - UPDATE

Strike action commenced on Saturday, 1st July. The ILWU gave 72 hours' notice of the potential strike. On Saturday, Rob Ashton, President of ILWU Canada, gave the following statement:

"The ILWU Canada Longshore Division is now on strike! We have been working around the clock at Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services since 8 am on June 30th to avert a strike. The ILWU Canada Longshore Division has not taken this decision lightly, but for the future of our workforce, we had to take this step."

Negotiations continue on Monday. Crane Worldwide Logistics will keep you informed of any further developments. You can reach out to the team for support at this time here.

The ILWU Canada Longshore Division is involved in the loading, unloading, and checking of cargo to and from vessels and the storage of these goods on the docks and in warehouses.

UPDATE 28th June 2023


Free Collective Bargaining between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) has been ongoing since February of this year in an attempt to renew the industry-wide collective agreement, which expired on March 31, 2023.

The Union is seeking a fair deal that respects Longshore workers, one that protects our jobs and our jurisdiction. We are seeking recognition for the hard work and sacrifices that Longshore Workers made during the pandemic and the extraordinary work that Longshore Locals did in getting workers out to the terminals during the lockdowns.

Read the full notice here >

UPDATE 26th June 2023

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of Canada have voted upon strike action as a failure to agree on current contract negotiations has taken place. 

Canada's ports, including Vancouver and Prince Rupert, could be impacted should strike action occur. 

Disruption would impact Canadian imports and exports and add to the difficulties experienced in the U.S. West Coast ports. 

According to the Maritime Executive, the ILWU represents more than 7,000 dock workers at Canada's West Coast terminals operated by the 49 member companies of BCMEA.

The earliest that strike action could take place is 24th June. 

President and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, Bridget Anderson, highlighted her concern over potential strike action "The ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert are vital gateways for international trade, handling over $350 billion in goods annually. We want to avoid another disruption that risks fueling inflation and higher prices for consumers and businesses so soon after the devastation inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, heat domes, and catastrophic flooding".

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