WINNIPEG — Canada’s agriculture sector is worried the country’s status as a reliable supplier of grains and oilseeds will be threatened if a labour dispute between Canadian National Railway and its locomotive engineers turns into a strike.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents 1,700 locomotive engineers, served CN officials with a 72-hour strike notice on Nov. 25 after CN said it plans to incorporate a 1.5 percent wage increased coupled with the requirement to have locomotive engineers work an additional 500 miles per month over the amount required by the present collective agreement.
"If the locomotive engineers go out on strike, the entire rail car movement on CN’s lines is bound to slow considerably," Mike Jubinville, an analyst with ProFarmer Canada, said. "Any strike/lockout will not be good for Canada’s grain and oilseed export program."
Some sort of backlog of rail cars will certainly come out of this work disruption as CN is unlikely to be able to keep their system running efficiently without these employees, he said. He acknowledged that CN supervisors will try to take over from the locomotive engineers where possible, but that will not be enough to cover all the freight service CN provides to its customers, resulting in delays.
"We are aware of the potential for the disruption in rail service on CN," John Lyons, a spokesman for the Canadian Wheat Board said.
He said the CWB was still hoping the two sides could resolve their labour issues before the Nov. 28 deadline and maintain a steady freight service.
"It is still too early to say what will need to happen as we are optimistic they can still work these issues out," Lyons said. However, he did acknowledge that contingency plans would be initiated by the CWB if seen as necessary.
If the labour dispute results in a strike and if the strike continues for any length of time, the CWB has in the past used the U.S. railway system to move commodities.
The TCRC said if the locomotive engineers are forced to follow through on their strike initiative, the movement of all freight, including grain and oilseeds, on CN rail lines will be slowed if not halted. If the TCRC strikes, CN in a release said it would provide the best possible service to its customers under the circumstances.
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