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Striking Montreal dockers moving Covid-related cargo

By Leo Ryan, Editor

As the general strike by dockers entered its 10th day, Martin Tessier, head of the Maritime Employers Association (MEA), said that “negotiations are not really progressing” – but the longshore union had agreed  to at least move Covid-related cargo.

He indicated he had asked the CUPE 365 union to move some 477 containers out of more than 11,000 currently stranded on the Montreal waterfront docks in order to clear essential goods such as medical equipment and pharmaceuticals as well as perishable goods and hazardous materials. The union okayed just Covid-related products.

In describing “very slow” progress in the prolonged negotiations, he virtually contradicted the assertion of “encouraging progress made between the two parties” coming from federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi over the past few days. The latter’s appraisal was aired to justify the decision by Ottawa not to directly intervene, despite urgent requests from the Quebec and Ontario governments and various industry groups.

Beginning in early July, the docker union staged a series of short strikes as a pressure tactic before launching an “indefinite” strike on August 10, resulting in close to a dozen ships being diverted to such other East Coast ports as Halifax, Saint John and New York.

The 1,125 dockers and MEA are negotiating  a collective agreement to replace the one which expired on December 31, 2018.

Hottest outstanding issue appears to be revolving around working hours and scheduling. And in this regard, Mr. Tessier underlined the vital contribution of the dockers to port activity and the importance of existing job security provisions which included guaranteed income when not working.

He referred to a profession “I respect a great deal. They don’t always work in easy conditions. We don’t delegate dockers. We need them.”

After recalling that the MEA had hired 300 new dockers in the last 18 months to handle increased traffic at the Port of Montreal, Mr.Tessier stated “the MEA was ready to address work/life balance issues but cannot control the number of ships calling at Montreal.”

Following the press conference, the MEA issued a statement declaring: “ The Maritime Employers Association prefers a negotiated solution in order to ensure that neither party is taken hostage, and this solution is a truce with an obligation of results which can take many forms.”