photo CUPE 375
By Leo Ryan, Editor
In a further escalation of a prolonged, bitter waterfront labour conflict at the Port of Montreal that is increasingly preoccupying Canadian business and shipper interests, the union representing more than 1,100 longshoremen today announced a four-day strike starting Monday on the two container terminals operated by Termont, which notably serves Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). Earlier this month, similar strike action targeted the container facilities of Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership.
The announcement came in a message sent this morning by Martin Lapierre, head of CUPE 375, to the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). The work stoppage is to run from Monday, August 3 at 7 a.m. to Friday, August 7 at 6.59 a.m. Participating in the strike will be longshoremen, foremen and maintenance workers.
As it happened, today marked the end of a four-day docker strike that had a direct impact on all sectors of the Port of Montreal except grain, liquid bulk and the Oceanex shipping service with Newfoundland and Labrador. In addition, the two major terminal firms shut down their operations for one day until 7 a.m. Saturday to “ensure the safety” of their employees following alleged violent acts – being investigated by Montreal police – by dockers on Wednesday night against 50 management staffers on their return from doing replacement work at a Termont terminal. The union representing some 175 checkers also launched a 24-hour strike today.
The negotiations which recently collapsed again are aimed at drawing up a new collective agreement to replace the one which expired on December 31, 2018. Key issues are working schedules and the impact of automation as the Port of Montreal expands its infrastructure to meet rising traffic especially in container cargo, which attained a record 1.7 million TEUs last year.
With no resolution in sight, business circles have expressed mounting concerns over the spillover effect on the Canadian economy and preserving the image of Montreal as a reliable North American transportation gateway.
At least one dozen vessels on their way or in the port zone are reported to be experiencing delays. Observers see risks of cargo diversion developing soon should the conflict persist much longer.
“The growing uncertainty is really worrisome for both importers and exporters and for the image of stability at Canada’s second-largest port,” Bob Ballantyne, President of the Freight Association of Canada, told Maritime Magazine. He suggested that the situation could soon call for government intervention – a view echoed by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec, and other industry associations.