By Harry Bains MLA
The dispute at Port Metro Vancouver was resolved this week – but it could have been averted altogether if the provincial government had not decided to interfere and align itself with the port.
Last fall, non-unionized and unionized owner-operators approached Port Metro Vancouver about the ongoing problems around undercutting on rates and port delays. At the same time, they also encouraged the provincial government to play a role to bring the parties together. But those calls were ignored.
Months later, when ongoing neglect of these issues led to labour action, Port Metro Vancouver failed to bargain in good faith during the month-long dispute.
And they found an ally in the B.C. Liberal government.
Two weeks before the dispute was resolved, the port and the Liberal government were refusing to negotiate on the proposed 14-point plan, ensuring that this painful dispute continued. Then, once the negotiations were back on track, the Liberals interrupted them again by threatening back-to-work legislation – in step with Port Metro Vancouver announcing it would revoke licences on small business owners.
At the same time, Unifor negotiators and the directors and members of the United Truckers Association took the responsible and practical approach. Their bargaining skills and patience were what finally brought the government to the negotiating table, kicking and screaming.
Just days before a resolution was reached, the Liberal government even attempted to force through its disruptive back-to-work legislation – but New Democrats made it clear they were ready to debate the issue for as long as necessary.
We believe workers should not be bullied by their employer, or by their government, and that’s why we were prepared to debate the B.C. Liberal back-to-work legislation through the night in the hopes of helping workers get a fair deal.
The Liberal government’s delay-and-obstruct tactics throughout the dispute at the port have had a serious effect on the B.C. economy.
And they have hit the small businesses that rely on the port hard.
Terminal operators are forcing small businesses to pay container storage rates that escalated throughout the dispute, doubling from $227 to $455 per day to process containers.
So while the Liberal government was helping to prolong a dispute that should have been solved last fall, small businesses were racking up bills to store containers they couldn’t access.
We are calling on the B.C. Liberal government to take action today to press for the return of these storage fees to the small businesses that were forced to pay them – because these businesses should not have to pay the price for the failure by both the port and the province to take negotiations seriously.
The fundamental, systemic issues at Port Metro Vancouver go back years, and the Liberal government is well aware of them.
But instead of supporting workers and small businesses in British Columbia during the dispute, the Liberals took the side of a federal agency that has failed both before and during this dispute to treat truckers with respect.
This week, the B.C. Liberal government is celebrating the end of the dispute at the port. But there is nothing to celebrate about a government that pushes around workers – threatening them with back-to-work legislation, and taking the side of a federal agency that tried to intimidate independent truckers by threatening to revoke their licenses.
And there is nothing to celebrate about a government whose political tactics delay negotiations and leave small businesses with hefty bills.
Instead, today let’s celebrate the work of everyone who stood up for a better, more efficient port, and improved working conditions.