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Containers waiting for shipment at the Port of Vancouver. (CHUCK STOODY/Chuck Stoody/ The Canadian Press)
Containers waiting for shipment at the Port of Vancouver. (CHUCK STOODY/Chuck Stoody/ The Canadian Press)

'Ugly girl' system in operation at B.C. docks Add to ...

Frustrated by what it says is a lack of progress in tackling discrimination and harassment on the waterfront, the BC Maritime Employers Association has filed a complaint against the longshoremans' union with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The complaint, filed this week against the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, follows a 2009 report by veteran mediator Vince Ready that found women dock workers in B.C. experienced "overt, significant and sustained harassment", including an "ugly girl" system for assigning work and being offered access to better jobs in exchange for sexual favours.

Despite the recommendations in that report - commissioned by ILWU Local 500, which represents workers in Vancouver, Port Moody, North Vancouver and Squamish - no significant changes in hiring or work practices have been made, BCMEA president Andy Smith said Friday.

"We needed to find a way to get these guys to come to the table," said Mr. Smith, adding that recent talks between the BCMEA and the union ended in stalemates.

ILWU Canada president Tom Dufresne said he was surprised by the complaint and that the union has addressed long-standing complaints of harassment and discrimination.

"We do take it extremely seriously," Mr. Dufresne said. "We pursue all reports of discrimination, whether they involve gender or race. We are a rank and file union and we have a long history of defending workers' rights."

Concern over working conditions for women on the waterfront dates back to at least 1992, when a B.C. Institute of Technology student report surveyed women workers and heard that most had experienced some form of harassment.

In his report, based on interviews with women who worked or had worked on the waterfront over the past 25 years, Mr. Ready described a "hostile culture" that featured women being groped, fondled and assaulted while at work.

In its submission to the Human Rights Commission, the BCMEA alleges that ILWU Canada and its locals are engaged in hiring practices that discriminate against women.

As of 2009, women represent 6.4 per cent of the B.C. longshoring work force, the BCMEA says in its complaint.

The average ILWU member earns $90,000 a year plus a good benefits package for working just 1,200 hours a year, Mr. Smith said, and the union has tended to favour insiders, making inequities worse over time.

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