Canada’s Pacific dock workers revoke strike notice after Trudeau’s crisis meeting

By Chris Helgren and Steve Scherer

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Dock workers on Canada’s Pacific coast said they have revoked a strike notice issued for Saturday, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directed a crisis meeting to pursue all options to ensure the stability of supply chains as he stressed the critical role of port operations.

The strike notice revoked had been issued earlier Wednesday just hours after a federal watchdog ruled the workers’ current stoppage was illegal.

“Effective immediately the strike notice dated July 22 for 9:00am has now been removed,” the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada said in a post on its website on Wednesday.

Amid mounting calls for resolute government action to end the strike, Trudeau convened a meeting of the Incident Response Group, which is comprised of senior officials and ministers and meets only in cases of crisis.

In a statement released following the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office said Trudeau had stressed the critical importance of operations at the ports resuming as soon as possible, and said that workers and employers across Canada cannot face further disruptions.

“He asked ministers and senior officials their advice toward achieving this goal and directed them to pursue all available options to ensure the stability of our supply chains and to protect Canadian jobs and our economy,” the statement said.

The strike has upended operations at Vancouver and Prince Rupert, two of Canada’s three busiest ports, which are key gateways for exporting natural resources and commodities and bringing in raw materials.

The Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) watchdog said the strike must end because the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) had not provided the required 72-hour notice before pulling workers off the job on Tuesday.

The union responded by issuing a new 72-hour strike notice, an ILWU official told Reuters by phone, before that notice was later revoked.

Some 7,500 dock workers have been picketing the two ports almost non-stop since July 1. A Reuters witness said there was no sign of pickets at Vancouver’s port on Wednesday.

On Tuesday the ILWU leadership rejected a tentative four-year contract deal agreed with employers less than a week ago that ended a 13-day strike.

The employers association accused the union of “holding the Canadian economy hostage.”

The walkout is estimated to have disrupted C$6.5 billion ($4.9 billion) of cargo movement at the ports, based on the industry body Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters’ calculation of about C$500 million in disrupted trade each day.

“My patience has run out,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told reporters when asked whether the government would pass back-to-work legislation, a politically tricky move. Ministers, he added, were exploring all options.

Legislation forcing workers back to their posts was favored by the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

But David Eby, the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) premier of British Columbia, said passing such legislation would take too long and urged the two sides “to sort it out at the table as quickly as possible.”

The leader of the official federal opposition Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre, earlier said Trudeau should come up with a plan to end the strike within 24 hours, but did not say whether he would support back-to-work legislation.

The federal NDP, a left-leaning opposition party that traditionally enjoys union backing, has been helping Trudeau’s minority government pass legislation. Its leader, Jagmeet Singh, ruled out support for a law to end the strike.

That means Trudeau would need the votes of the Conservatives, who have been trying to court workers and unions, or the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

It also means the Liberal-NDP deal that is keeping the government going could be put under strain if Trudeau ends up forcing workers back to the job.

($1 = 1.3181 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Chris Helgren in Vancouver and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; additional reporting by Ismail Shakil, David Ljunggren, Nia Williams and Juby Babu; Editing by Chris Reese, Jonathan Oatis, Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler)