Exporters of Canadian crops and other goods have amped up calls for federal intervention after longshore workers at the Port of Montreal declared a “partial” strike affecting weekend and overtime work.
The Syndicat des debardeurs du port de Montreal (SCFP/CUPE Local 375) said Saturday they had filed 72 hours’ strike notice, to take effect Tuesday — a move they said is in response to a lockout notice served Friday, also effective Tuesday, from their employers’ association.
The lockout notice came “after a good week of negotiations where the work was going well,” CUPE representative Michel Murray said Saturday in a release.
The union and the Association des employeurs maritimes (AEM), which represents port employers, said in separate statements Monday on Facebook they have been called to separate meetings Tuesday by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and would attend.
Reuters on Monday quoted a representative for federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi as saying while the government believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves.”
The union said Saturday its partial strike means that, starting Tuesday, its member workers won’t take any overtime work beyond their regular eight-hour shifts, and will be on strike Saturdays and Sundays indefinitely.
The longshore workers would continue regular day, evening and night shifts from Monday to Friday, the union said.
Thus, Murray said, “we put pressure on the employer without much disturbing customers who are waiting for their merchandise.”
A strike wouldn’t affect bulk grain traffic at Montreal, which runs through Viterra’s 262,000-tonne capacity grain terminal. The federal Labour Code calls for port workers during a strike or lockout to “continue to provide the services they normally provide” for loading, tie-up, let-go and movement of grain vessels in and out of port.
However, a strike would affect traffic through Montreal’s container terminals — and those include the CanEst Transit terminal, devoted to storage, cleaning, sifting, packing and loading of agricultural products.
The CanEst terminal, whose ownership group includes Quebec ag co-operative Sollio and Regina pulse and durum processor AGT, loads about 200 containers per day.
“Demand for goods is at an all-time high, and yet port traffic is dropping,” pulse industry group Pulse Canada said on Twitter Monday. “The recent uncertainty is just the tipping point for further damage to (Canadian agriculture).”
Pulse Canada and several crops sector groups — including the Canadian Special Crops Association, Soy Canada, Cereals Canada, the Prairie Oat Growers Association, Western Grain Elevator Association and others — have previously stated their case for federal intervention.
The Port of Montreal, when fully open, sees over $880 million in containerized ag economic activity per year, they said.
The port’s unionized longshore workers’ previous collective agreement expired at the end of December 2018; the union has described the main sticking point in talks as worker scheduling as it relates to “work/life balance.”
The parties said in August they had a “mutual agreement” in which they’d be able to turn to arbitration at the end of the truce if “certain points remain in dispute.”
Ag groups aren’t alone in calling for federal intervention. Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) said Monday they want Ottawa to “ensure service continuity” at the port.
“Just the threat of a work stoppage at the port caused an 11 per cent decrease in activity this past month alone,” the association said in a release.
“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week. Industry will have to absorb these costs and delays, and it will ultimately hurt consumers,” CME CEO Dennis Darby said. — Glacier FarmMedia Network