Locomotive engineers at Canadian Nat ional Railway (CN) who have been on strike since Saturday may soon be ordered back to work if the federal government gets backing for legislation to do so.
Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose said in a release Monday she would introduce a bill that afternoon to end the strike, but did not say what date it would take effect or whether it was assured support by other parties in the House of Commons.
“My preference has always been for the two sides to resolve their own labour dispute but since this has proven impossible, our government must act to protect the public interest,” Ambrose said Monday.
The strike is “more than a private dispute” between CN and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), she said. “It has serious repercussions for the national economy at a time when Canada’s recovery from the global recession is still fragile.”
Ambrose added that the legislation is strictly to end the strike and the government “will not impose a settlement on the employer and union.”
About 1,700 engineers represented by the TCRC walked off the job Nov. 28 after talks broke down.CNsaid it was using management and nonunion staff to provide “the best possible service under the circumstances.”
The engineers have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2008.CNlast week had unilaterally imposed new work conditions, describing that as the only way to break a deadlock in talks.
TCRC president Dan Shewchuk said that decision triggered the strike. “We were forced into this position by CN’s dramatic move,” he told Reuters.CN
spokesman Mark Hallman declined to say how many trains were still running. The dispute does not affect CN engineers in the U. S., who work under different contracts. Canadian inter-city passenger trains and commuter rail services are set to operate as normal.
The last strike at CN began in February 2007 when 2,800 conductors and yard-service employees walked off the job. It ended with back-to-work legislation two months later.
Under the conditions imposed by the company, engineers will get pay increases of 1.5 per cent. But their monthly mileage cap will rise to 4,300 miles (6,900 km) from 3,800 miles (6,100 km), matching that of the railway’s train conductors.
The mileage caps are designed to keep train crews from being overworked.CNsays the 3,800-mile limit was set decades ago, in an era of steam locomotives, and a higher limit would improve productivity.
The union said some engineers might have to work seven days a week with no time off under the new system, which CN said was inaccurate.