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Union members with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada remove strike signs from a picket line in Vancouver.CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

A strike by 7,400 B.C. port workers has ended after the union and employers agreed to a four-year tentative deal, but business groups say Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner has taken a hit after billions of dollars worth of cargo shipments were disrupted.

Despite the settlement, the groups say, Canadians face more supply chain issues stemming from the strike.

Members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) agreed to return to work Thursday after the 13-day strike. Unionized employees started taking down picket lines midday and staff on the night shift trickled back to work.

“While we are relieved this current crisis appears to be over, the work of manufacturers is not done,” said Dennis Darby, president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, in a statement. “They will be spending the next several months sorting through the damage and getting caught up.”

The organization estimates that supply chain issues could take months to sort out – about one week for every day that B.C. ports were shut down.

“Governments, labour and the private sector must focus forward and work together to restore the reputation of Canada as a reliable trading nation,” the BC Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade agreed, saying “we need to rebuild our reputation as a stable trading partner and ensure the future resiliency and stability of our supply chain.”

B.C. port strike raises questions about essential agriculture

The board had unveiled a “port shutdown calculator” earlier this week that displayed an electronic tally of the value of trade disrupted, with the number rising each second. The calculator showed that more than $9.6-billion of cargo had been affected as of Thursday morning. It based its data on the estimated $800-million a day in trade affected by the labour action.

The disruption to Canada’s supply chain, including trains and trucks, halted the flow of a wide range of products, such as imports of consumer goods and exports of raw materials.

Peter Simpson, director-general of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, drafted the document that recommended the four-year collective agreement that led to a tentative settlement, according to two sources familiar with the situation. The settlement is subject to ratification by a union council. Details of the agreement were not released.

The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

About 6,000 of the ILWU’s members are in the Vancouver region, where Canada’s largest port is located. Another 1,000 unionized workers are in the Prince Rupert area in northern B.C., and the rest are on Vancouver Island.

Members of the ILWU began their work stoppage on Canada Day. On Thursday it sent a message to its members: “Thank you so much for all your support on our picket lines. Solidarity forever.”

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan e-mailed the contract proposal to the two sides at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday, setting a 24-hour deadline for responses in hopes of ending the walkout.

“The scale of this disruption has been significant. The extent of it has shown just how important the relationship between industry and labour is to our national interest,” Mr. O’Regan said in a joint statement with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Thursday.

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Gantry cranes sit idle above stacks of cargo containers at port during a strike by International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada workers in the province, in Vancouver, on July 12.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith welcomed the resolution, but she said Ottawa waited too long to get involved.

“It is up to the federal government to make sure that they’re more pro-active on these kinds of disputes in the future,” Ms. Smith said after speaking about liquefied natural gas at an international conference in Vancouver.

“They need to get involved earlier, make sure that these disputes do not go on this long.”

The ILWU had listed contracting out as one of its three key issues, along with cost-of-living wage increases and the impact of automation on job security.

The union sought a two-year deal while the employers proposed a four-year pact.

During collective bargaining, employers proposed training programs to address shortages of skilled trades in a bid to help resolve the strike. The BC Maritime Employers Association recommended an independent arbitrator be appointed to chair a subcommittee that would have employers sit down with officials from the waterfront union to discuss the key issue of contracting out.

In April, Ottawa approved the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s proposed $3.5-billion Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project, to be located near the Vancouver suburb of Delta.

The ILWU and environmental groups oppose plans to build the terminal, which would be semi-automated. The union has warned that it could produce a ripple effect at existing operations, with semi-automated sites operating with 50 per cent fewer employees.

The previous five-year collective agreement expired on March 31.

The BC Maritime Employers Association, which represents 49 private-sector companies such as shipowners and terminal operators, also warned of the reputational risk stemming from the strike.

“We must collectively work together to not only restore cargo operations as quickly and safely as possible but to also rebuild the reputation of Canada’s largest gateway,” it said in a statement on Thursday.

The labour dispute did not affect the servicing of cruise lines. Bulk grain shipments also continued being exported overseas, in accordance with the Canada Labour Code.

Two coal-export terminals, one near the Vancouver suburb of Delta and the other near Prince Rupert, kept operating because those employers have their own collective agreements.

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