Last summer’s docker strikes cost Canadian businesses an estimated $600 million in lost sales.
By Leo Ryan, Editor
With an unprecedented, prolonged waterfront conflict entering another crisis point, the federal government today (Sunday) served notice it is prepared to rush through legislation should the Port of Montreal’s 1,150 dockers proceed with a planned unlimited strike Monday morning at 7 am. Martin Imbleau, President and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority, promptly welcomed the news.
The CUPE 375 union announced the strike call Friday in response to changes made by the Maritime Employers Association in work shifts and guaranteed income arrangements after the union launched overtime and weekend strikes on April 17. The union said it was willing to call off the strike if the MEA dropped its “pressure tactics.” A meeting with federal mediators has been scheduled to begin at 9 am Monday.
However, in the latest development Sunday, CUPE 375 President Martin Lapierre announced the Monday strike is maintained – “the employer having refused to re-establish the working conditions of the dockers touching on job security and the working hours.”
The two sides have been unable to negotiate a new collective agreement replacing the one which expired in December 2018.
A notice released today indicated that federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi could, as early as Wednesday, table a bill for ending any new work stoppage.
“Putting forward this notice is our government’s least-favoured option,” said Ms. Tassi in a series of tweets. “We believe in the collective bargaining process. However, the government must act when all other efforts have been exhausted and a work stoppage is causing significant economic harm to Canadians.”
Port of Montreal reaction
The Montreal Port Authority (MPA) acknowledged the federal government’s advance notice of a Special Act supporting the resumption and maintenance of port activities in Montreal, clearly recognizing the strategic character of the Port of Montreal.
“After several strike episodes in 2020 and 2021, which have had and continue to have serious economic and logistical impact, it is mission-critical that the Port of Montreal be able to fully and sustainably play its strategic role as an economic engine at the service of the local population and SMEs without interruption,” said Martin Imbleau, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Montreal Port Authority.
A partial strike now underway and notice of an unlimited general strike sent by the union have resulted in a total halt of cargo handling activities since last Friday. Port of Montreal clients can expect delays in the delivery of their goods for the next few days and even weeks.
On average, 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.
It should be noted that the strike episodes in the summer of 2020 hit hard, with 80,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) grounded or rerouted and some 20 vessels diverted to competing ports, a trend that certain shipping lines began in recent months given the uncertainty associated with the labour dispute.
In the recent partial strike episode, after a single weekend of stoppage, the impact was already significant: close to 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) grounded, a backlog and delays in rail convoys, and shipping lines with vessels en route to Montreal obliged to rework their logistics. (photo CUPE 375)