Port workers' strike in B.C. threatens Sask. agriculture producers, economy: experts

A strike by port workers in British Columbia is causing concern for industry experts in Saskatchewan.

Producers who export grain in shipping containers could face backlog

A sign reading "I.L.W.U workers on strike" is affixed to the back of a black SUV, and a group of three men holding similar signs and looking down at their phones stand next to the vehicle.
An International Longshore and Warehouse Union worker pickets outside of the BC Maritime Employers Association Dispatch Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, July 3, 2023. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The port workers' strike in British Columbia could have consequences for producers and consumers in Saskatchewan, according to industry experts. 

That's because the job action could disrupt supply chains, which is a big concern for people working in agriculture, said Jasmin Guénette, who is the vice president of national affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. 

"Farm businesses that need to get their product out to the market may not be able to do so," Guénette said. 

B.C. port workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union walked off the job Saturday morning.The strike affects more than 7,000 terminal cargo loaders at 30 ports. Their employer, the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, said bargaining attempts with a federal mediator had been unsuccessful so far. 

Guénette said disruptions to the supply chain might also mean that consumers will have to wait for products to reach shelves, which could add to the cost pressure in a time when people are already struggling to make ends meet due to inflation. 

Bill Prybylski, who is the vice-president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said local grain that is transported in containers will be affected. 

The containers are filled at elevators in Saskatchewan and then the containers are transported to ships at the ports in B.C. from where they are exported to international customers. 

"Any pulse growers and specialty crop growers, this is going to affect how they market their grain. Any disruptions in the movement of grain of any kind is certainly not good news for producers," Prybylski said. 

"If the containers aren't able to be unloaded at the port onto a ship and sent to our customers, there'll be a backlog." 

A red barn can be seen on a farm on a sunny day.
If the strike continues, and shipments get delayed, farmers could see cash flow issues. (Aishwarya Dudha/CBC News)

If producers are unable to deliver on their contracts because elevators are full, that could create problems in cash flow for farmers who don't get paid until the grain is delivered. 

"If the customers are waiting for the grain at the other end, it could hurt in the long run. If they're not able to get the grains, they'll look elsewhere," Prybylski said. 

A farm can be seen with grain elevators and a cloudy sky above it.
A strike by port workers in B.C. has entered its fourth day and is disrupting supply chains, particularly impacting grain farmers and the agriculture sector. (Aishwarya Dudha/CBC News)

Supply chain issues will further burden the provincial economy that's already struggling with inflation and high interest rates, said Keith Willoughby, who is dean of the Edwards School of Business. 

"We're looking at a situation where $800 million per day is flowing through those ports," Willoughby said. 

"So where it's going to be impacted for us here in the province on the consumer side is any of our businesses that are importing goods from other countries could see items that are held up in port." 

However, he suggested consumers have confidence in the labour mediation process as both sides are sitting on the bargaining table. 

He also mentioned that this could be an opportunity for manufacturers to consider relying less on global imports and start manufacturing within the country. 

"It's easier said than done, because it's a multi-billion dollar decision to onshore your manufacturing, but going forward is something that we as a province, as a country, are going to look at doing to ensure that we aren't susceptible to some of these supply chain issues."


Aishwarya Dudha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan based in Saskatoon. She has previously worked for Global News and the Times of India. She specializes in social justice issues and elevating voices of vulnerable people. She can be reached at