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CIRB rules against request of Montreal port employers on “essential services” issue

 

In a decision announced this week, the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) rejected a request by the Maritime Employers Association to categorize docker work on the Montreal waterfront as an essential service that would prevent potential job action on the waterfront.

The CIRB reiterated a decision already taken in 2020 that Montreal port employers cannot compel longshoremen to work during a strike. This paves the way for a resumption of negotiations prior to any eventual work stoppage.

Under the Canada Labour Code, the federal labour board can require work during a stoppage if it is deemed necessary to “prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety and health of the public.”

Negotiations between the MEA and Local 375 of the Canadian Public Employees (CUPE) representing 1,100 Montreal dockers for a four-year collective agreement failed to break a deadlock prior to the expiration of the existing pact on December 31.

But no strike or lockout scenario could surface as long as the CIRB reviewed last fall’s application by the MEA to have some longshore services declared “essential services” under a section of the Canada Labour Code.

Docker strikes hit the Montreal waterfront in the summer of 2020 and spring of 2021, causing major supply chain disruptions. The latter industrial action resulted in back-to-work federal legislation.

The negotiations had barely started last September before the union asked the federal government to appoint a mediator – an early sign of conflicting demands. 

Reportedly high up on the wish list of the docker union is a 20% hike in wages over four years as well as permanent job security after three years. Among other matters, the MEA is seeking greater operational flexibility and adjustments on the number of workers benefiting from guaranteed job security.

(Port of Montreal photo)

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