MONTREAL, Que. — Stung by an abrupt halt to its activities by the lockout of some 850 longshoremen enforced by the Maritime Employers Association (MEA), the Montreal Port Authority is calling for a quick resolution between the MEA and its employees.
The Montreal Port Authority is not party to the conflict, which had been brewing for some time and finally erupted into lockout action taken this morning by the MEA.
The MEA is a nonprofit organization representing member companies involved in shipping, including ship owners, operators and agents, stevedoring contractors and terminal operators. Pursuant to Section 34 of the Canada Labour Code, the MEA, on behalf of its members, negotiates and administers collective agreements covering more than 1,450 longshoremen in Toronto, Montreal and Trois-Rivières/Bécancour.
The labour dispute is certain to strongly impact the flow of cargo into Quebec and Eastern Canada. Gilles Corriveau, spokesman for the MEA, said that between 70 and 80 per cent of the goods consumed by Quebec and Eastern Canada go through the Port of Montreal.
Matters came to a head over job and revenue security. Union spokesman Michel Murray told the media that 169 longshoremen with the least seniority recently had their guaranteed revenue cut and union members responded to the change by working less overtime. He added that the guaranteed revenue deal had long been a part of the contract and, as a result, longshoremen have been available to work.
The workers are guaranteed their jobs and full pay even if they do not actually work unloading ships, under the expired agreement. The longshoremen have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2008. MEA spokesman Gilles Corriveau said this job and revenue security is amounting to more than $10 million a year, and complained that there are now too many workers on call that aren’t doing any work.
“Considering existing market conditions, MEA can no longer accept such a large gap between the amount of hours worked and paid for by longshoremen and the amount of hours not worked but fully paid for,” he said. “MEA’s management team believes that while this is not a desirable outcome, it had no other choice but to order a lock-out, given that pressure tactics have begun to impede port operations.”
The MEA warned the move will affect most of the port’s operations, except for shipments from grain silos, which are run by the Port of Montreal itself.All the Port’s marine activities stopped following the lockout. Furthermore, rail operations and truck traffic were halted when picket lines went up. Consequently, no container has entered or left the Port since Monday morning.
The Port of Montreal is served by 7 of the 10 largest container shipping lines in the world. Close to 1,250,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) were handled at the Port of Montreal in 2009, representing 11,266,000 tonnes of cargo. The Port also handled 7,773,000 tonnes of liquid bulk, 2,898,000 tonnes of dry bulk, and 2, 419,000 tonnes of grain in 2009.
The MEA and the union engaged in a “ marathon” negotiation meeting in the presence of a mediator appointed by the government on Saturday but the situation was not resolved with the MEA stating it hopes that “everyone involved will come to realize that the new reality affecting maritime transport requires changes in how labour resources are managed.”
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt issued a statement saying she was “disappointed” the two sides have not been able to reach a deal and urged them to resume bargaining.
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