Montreal port strike ends, workers forced back to work
MONTREAL longshore workers returned to work last Saturday after legislation forced an end to a five-day strike, a defeat for labour that lays the groundwork for arbitration to forge a new contract that would signal many years of labour certainty to shippers.
The ongoing absence of a new contract to replace the one that expired at the end 2018 created uncertainty for Canadian and US Midwest shippers, as reflected by a 19-day series of strike last summer as well as the most recent action, reports IHS Media.
Federal arbitration of a new multiyear contract - if not stymied by a threatened union lawsuit - would help Canada's second-largest port shield itself from growing competition from eastern US and Canadian ports and begin to repair its damaged reputation with shippers.
"This new turning point lets the Port of Montreal regain stability and the capability to fulfil its strategic role as a public service without long-term interruptions," Martin Imbleau, president and CEO at the Montreal Port Authority (MPA) said in a statement.
The port said it will take several days to restore normal cargo flow through the port as marine terminal operators handle 10 vessels, accounting for nearly 20,000 TEU, over the coming days. Shippers should expect delays in the coming weeks, the MPA said.
But the reputational impact to Montreal will take longer to fix. Major shippers were following the developments closely, and in justifying its move on April 10 to cut overtime and weekend shifts, the Maritime Employers Association said tonnage at the port in March fell 10 per cent year over year due to diversions.
The back-to-work legislation was a defeat for labour which sought higher pay, more flexible work schedules, and greater control of hiring. Arguing that the back-to-work legislation violates its constitutional right to a fair bargaining process, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said it would challenge the law in court.
In a statement, Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said a mediator would be named in the coming days to bring both sides to the table, and that the current law doesn't allow any work stoppages.
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