Port employees find gates locked Thursday morning

Photo: Jeremy Hainsworth

The association representing 55 port employers locked out B.C.’s longshoremen Thursday morning while contract bargaining continued, the union said.

The Maritime Employers Association warned Tuesday it would lock out members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU).

The notice came a day after the start of what the ILWU called limited job action, including a ban on overtime.

However, both sides had returned to the table Wednesday afternoon in hopes of averting a prolonged shutdown.

Shippers and academics have warned a prolonged dispute at ports up and down the coast and on Vancouver Island would severely disrupt supply chains, strangle shipping capacity, back up goods and damage the national economy.

Port Metro Vancouver said that, based on 2018 cargo volumes and average 2018 commodity prices, the estimated cargo value that would be affected by a dispute is $615 million per day.

The ILWU was ready for a full walkout at 7 a.m. Monday, but instead instituted a ban on overtime and other actions without picket lines at GCT Global Container Terminals’ Vanterm and Deltaport facilities in the Vancouver area.

The association characterized it as a work slowdown.

Preserving jobs in the face of port automation and site safety are among concerns ILWU president Rob Ashton has raised.

The association and ports, however, assert automation would save jobs and not be used to replace workers.

Shipping companies have also complained labour costs are too high in the ports.

The lockout affects all ports in Canada's Asia Pacific Gateway – including the private, northern facility in Stewart. The lockout will not include cruise ship operations or employees required to service grain vessels.