By Mark Gordienko
British Columbia has a rich legacy of labour. It’s in our life blood. From the fur trade and coal mines of the late 19th century, to the lumber mills and mines of the 20th century and the construction boom of today, labour has and continues to serve as the backbone of the B.C. economy.
While labour plays a critical role in a number of sectors, it maintains a unique relationship with our resource industry: labour has allowed this province to capitalize on its natural resources for decades of economic prosperity.
In turn, the resource industry has provided good, family-supporting jobs, enabling generations of British Columbians to put food on the table, kids in school, and a roof overhead.
According to BC Stats, the forest industry, including logging, wood product and paper manufacturers, has employed an average of 83,500 workers since 1987.
The mining, oil and gas industry, including mineral, petroleum, chemical and plastic product manufacturers, has employed approximately 35,500 individuals, on average.
It’s important to recognize that the domestic resource sector also generates indirect employment in other areas, such as machinery and equipment distributors. This industry, which supplies the heavy machinery used in forestry and mining operations, has provided more than 17,700 jobs, on average.
Or consider the construction industry, which is frequently contracted to build natural resource-supporting infrastructure and has employed more than 140,000 labourers, on average.
Then there is the transportation and warehousing sector, which is essential to the movement of B.C. goods. This sector, which includes rail, water and truck transportation, as well as warehousing, has employed an average of 47,700 workers each year.
Workers in the transportation industry, including more than 3,000 International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members, help facilitate the export of local products.
Natural resource exports add tremendous value to B.C. products and labour. They enable local businesses to access new markets, boost their profitability, and pay workers better wages.
According to Natural Resources Canada, natural resources account for 80 percent of British Columbia’s exports and 100,000 direct jobs. BC Stats figures indicate that workers in the natural resource sector earn nearly 58 percent more than the average B.C. salary.
A significant portion of B.C.’s exports are handled everyday by ILWU members at key export terminals in Port Metro Vancouver, Canada’s largest port.
Port Metro Vancouver, as a key facilitator of exports, underscores the significant role of exports in the provincial economy and for labour: not only is the port responsible for more than 76,000 jobs in B.C., it also supports jobs that pay about 45 percent more than the average B.C. wage.
Exports, and the workers along the supply chain, are crucial to the continued prosperity of British Columbia.
As is the need to keep growing our ports’ capacity, evidenced by the recent decision to expand Fraser Surrey Docks, which will develop the necessary infrastructure to handle increased exports and keep good paying jobs here in B.C.
As I look back at the four decades I’ve spent helping B.C. products reach foreign markets, I can’t help but swell with pride.
While labour in B.C. has changed dramatically over that time, there is little doubt that the grit, character and essential role of our local workers has remained the same.
Today, I call on all British Columbians to take this opportunity to reflect on how labour touches so many aspects of our lives.
Join me in celebrating the individuals who drive the provincial economy, who build communities across B.C., support families through their hard work, help us capitalize on our natural resource endowment, and enable all residents of this province to enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.
This Labour Day, we should all be proud of B.C.’s labour legacy and be grateful for the future opportunities it affords our province.
Mark Gordienko is President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada.