Canadian Pacific dockworkers issue strike notice; Trudeau holds a crisis meeting

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Striking dock workers on Canada’s Pacific coast on Wednesday issued a new 72-hour notice to quit, just hours after a federal watchdog ruled their current stop was illegal.

Amid growing calls for firm government action to end the strike, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened a meeting of the Incident Response Group. The group consists of senior officials and ministers and meets only in case of crises.

In a statement released after the meeting, the prime minister’s office said Trudeau stressed the critical importance of resuming operations at ports as soon as possible and said workers and employers across Canada could not face more disruptions.

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

The strike upended operations in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, two of Canada’s busiest ports, major gateways for exporting natural resources and commodities and bringing in raw materials.

The Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) watchdog said the strike should end because the Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) did not give 72 hours’ notice before pulling workers off the job Tuesday.

Later, an ISF official, speaking on the phone, said the union had issued a new 72-hour strike notice on Wednesday, and workers would be in a position to leave work early on Saturday. The union said it would respect the CIRB’s decision.

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About 7,500 dockers at the two ports have been sitting in almost non-stop since July 1. A Reuters witness said there was no sign of sit-ins in the port of Vancouver on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the leadership of the International Federation of Migrant Workers rejected an initial four-year deal agreed with employers less than a week earlier that ended a 13-day strike.

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

It is estimated that the strike disrupted C$6.5 billion ($4.9 billion) of goods movement at the ports, based on Canadian Exporters and Manufacturing Authority calculations of about C$500 million in disrupted trade each day.

“I’m running out of patience,” Transport Minister Omar Al-Ghabra told reporters when asked if the government would pass the return-to-work law, a difficult political move. He added that the ministers are studying all options.

The 72-hour strike notice means Ottawa has until early Saturday to pass a law forcing workers to return to their jobs, a move favored by the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and Canadian manufacturers and exporters.

But David Ibe, the left-leaning premier of British Columbia, said it would take a long time to pass such legislation and urged both sides to “get it on the table as quickly as possible”.

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

The Federal National Party, a left-leaning opposition party that has traditionally enjoyed union support, has been helping Trudeau’s minority government pass legislation. Its leader, Jagmeet Singh, ruled out supporting an act to end the strike.

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

It also means that the liberal-NDP deal that keeps government going could come under strain if Trudeau ends up forcing workers back to the job.

($1 = 1.3181 Canadian dollars)

Additional reporting by Chris Helgren in Vancouver and Steve Shearer in Ottawa, as well as Ismail Shakil, David Leungren and Nia Williams; Editing by Chris Reese, Jonathan Otis, Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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