Critical shipments getting caught up in the dispute, small businesses say

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As the strike at the ports of British Columbia stretches into its 11th day, more than half of 1,400 Canadian small business owners surveyed by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) say they’re feeling the impact, with shipments of everything from footwear and footwear clothing for the short back-to-school sales window to 48,000 glass bottles for a beverage producer getting caught up in the dispute.

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Three quarters of respondents to the CFIB survey urged the federal government to ensure that “ending the strike” becomes its “top priority.” Another 16 per cent said the strike would have no impact on them, while another 31 said they were elemental.

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CFIB said the strike comes at a difficult time for entrepreneurs still getting over challenges wrought from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Supply chains have just started to recover from the disruptions caused by the pandemic, so many businesses will feel this latest setback is extra hard,” said Dan Kelly, president of CFIB, Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with about 97,000 members .

“We’re hearing from members across the country who are worried about missing critical sales, delayed production or orders or an inability to get their products to export markets because of the strike,” he added. “The federal government must step in and get shipments moving again as quickly as possible.”

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Larger businesses are also facing impacts from the strike. Nutrien Ltd., the world’s biggest producer of potash, said in a statement on July 11 that it has curtailed production at its Cory potash mine in Saskatchewan due to loss of export capacity through the Neptune terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

If the strike continues, Nutrien might have to curtail production at its other potash mines as well, the company’s chief executive Ken Seitz said.

A workers’ strike that began on July 1 has paralyzed the ports of Vancouver, which handles at least 16 per cent of Canada’s total traded goods annually and has disrupted at least $7.5-billion dollars’ worth of cargo already, the ports’ employers say.

Businesses are concerned the strike may lead to higher prices since shipping companies charge for the time that goods remain on ships, trains or in container terminals.

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The federal government must step in and get shipments moving again as quickly as possible

Dan Kelly, president, CFIB

The associations representing workers and employers met after a week over the weekend with the help of the mediators from the federal government, which has so far urged the two parties to forge a deal. But businesses have called on the government to do more, including reconvening Parliament to pass back-to-work legislation.

One of the key objections raised by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents the roughly 7,400 worker strike, is its authority over work maintaining the ports’ machinery and equipment, which it says has been aggressively eroded by employers’ use of third-party contractors.

The British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA), which represents 49 of BC’s private-sector waterfront employers, said that its latest proposal includes “additional language” that would open the door for ILWU Canada to perform new work outside of the union’s jurisdiction.

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The association also proposed to convene an independent committee to better define which tasks fall within the maintenance category and to improve training and recruitment of ILWU workers.

Aside from the issue linked to maintenance work, the two associations also need to agree on financial demands.

ILWU Canada’s president Rob Ashton said in a press release on July 10 that attempts to get a fair wage increase in current contract negotiations have been blocked by employers, who have “seen profits explode” in the last three years. The BCMEA urged the union to consider its latest proposal in a statement on July 10.

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