The Maritime Employers Association (MEA) on Friday said it received a 72-hour notice of an indefinite strike starting on Monday, April 26 from the union’s executive of the Port of Montreal Longshoremen.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local (CUPE) 375 announced the move less than two weeks after beginning a partial strike. The union, which represents over 1,100 longshoremen, said the full strike came in response to the MEA changing its regular schedules. The longshoremen will stop working at 7 a.m. on Monday.
Last week the longshoremen began a partial strike, refusing to work overtime and on weekends.
“The port is a strategic public service for the revival of our economy. Now is not the time to cripple it with a strike,” Quebec economy minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said Friday on Twitter. “Our companies have already suffered enough from this labour dispute. The federal government must intervene quickly.”
In an emailed statement, federal labour minister Filomena Tassi said Ottawa is “examining all options at this time. This new escalation is very concerning. The inability of the parties to reach an agreement has already caused significant economic disruption in Montreal, Quebec and across Canada. Businesses in Quebec and Ontario and our economy as a whole need to see this resolved quickly.”
Martin Imbleau, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority said in a press release, “The Port of Montreal is a strategic infrastructure that serves import and export companies as well as the citizens of Quebec and the rest of Canada. This new work stoppage hinders the key role that port operations play in the economic recovery and will have a significant and very concrete impact on the population and SMEs here.”
The MPA handles $275 million worth of goods every day, ranging from agri-food products, pharmaceuticals and construction equipment to flagship products exported by local companies. A recent economic study found that a disruption of port activities incurs a loss of $10 million to $25 million per day for the economy, the release said.
Union officials say they are ready to drop their threat if the employer scraps two recent decisions — a change in shift schedules and an end to job security for workers — to reinstate the conditions included in the previous labour agreement, spokesperson Michel Murray said Friday.
“The ball is in the employer’s camp,” Murray told reporters Friday. “Our priority is to be at the bargaining table.” He called the employers’ strategy “a frontal attack.”
The employers’ body MEA said in a statement Friday that it is still waiting for a response from the union regarding the two counterproposals submitted through the mediators this past April 15.
Every decision made by the MEA is made with the aim of protecting the fluidity of the supply chain, meaning the imports and exports of our small and medium-sized enterprises, the statement said.
“There has not been a single day of negotiations since April 15. We received a notice of meeting today from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The meeting will take place on Monday, and we will be at the table,” the MEA said.
Bruce Rodgers, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) said on Thursday, “In the same week the federal government committed tens of billions to stimulate the economy, a labour dispute in one of Canada’s most critical transportation hubs is acting to supress economic growth.”
The businesses and citizens of Montreal and Quebec have become pawns in a destructive game played by the parties in the Port of Montreal’s ongoing labour dispute, Rodgers says.
Government intervention sought
An orchestrated slowdown over the last two weeks has led to a growing backlog at the Port. “Even if the dispute was resolved today, we’d still see serious consequences for people and businesses of all kinds,” he said.
“But the situation doesn’t seem to be getting better. On the contrary, the disputing parties are digging in their heels. We are calling on government to intervene to ensure the situation doesn’t get any worse, but instead gets resolved immediately.”
Rodgers said the fragile economic recovery is imperiled by the labour disruptions. “This is a critical time for Canada and the Canadian government needs to take action.”
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