The Maritime Employers Association (MEA) on Friday said it received a 72-hour notice of an indefinite strike starting on Monday, April 26 from the union’s executive of the Port of Montreal Longshoremen.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local (CUPE) 375 announced the move less than two weeks after beginning a partial strike. The union, which represents over 1,100 longshoremen, said the full strike came in response to the MEA changing its regular schedules. The longshoremen will stop working at 7 a.m. on Monday.
Last week the longshoremen began a partial strike, refusing to work overtime and on weekends.
“The port is a strategic public service for the revival of our economy. Now is not the time to cripple it with a strike,” Quebec economy minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said Friday on Twitter. “Our companies have already suffered enough from this labour dispute. The federal government must intervene quickly.”
In an emailed statement, federal labour minister Filomena Tassi said Ottawa is “examining all options at this time. This new escalation is very concerning. The inability of the parties to reach an agreement has already caused significant economic disruption in Montreal, Quebec and across Canada. Businesses in Quebec and Ontario and our economy as a whole need to see this resolved quickly.”
Union officials say they are ready to drop their threat if the employer scraps two recent decisions — a change in shift schedules and an end to job security for workers — to reinstate the conditions included in the previous labour agreement, spokesperson Michel Murray said Friday.
“The ball is in the employer’s camp,” Murray told reporters Friday. “Our priority is to be at the bargaining table.” He called the employers’ strategy “a frontal attack.”
The employers’ body MEA said in a tweet, “It is important to state that the MEA used the provisions of the collective agreement which allow it to switch to regular schedules in order to compensate the harmful effects of the strike. This decision from the union’s executive is very disappointing while the fluidity of the logistic chain remains crucial to the economic recovery. The MEA is currently evaluating all of its options. We are eager for a speedy settlement.”
Bruce Rodgers, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) said on Thursday, “In the same week the federal government committed tens of billions to stimulate the economy, a labour dispute in one of Canada’s most critical transportation hubs is acting to supress economic growth.”
The businesses and citizens of Montreal and Quebec have become pawns in a destructive game played by the parties in the Port of Montreal’s ongoing labour dispute, Rodgers says.
An orchestrated slowdown over the last two weeks has led to a growing backlog at the Port. “Even if the dispute was resolved today, we’d still see serious consequences for people and businesses of all kinds,” he said.
“But the situation doesn’t seem to be getting better. On the contrary, the disputing parties are digging in their heels. We are calling on government to intervene to ensure the situation doesn’t get any worse, but instead gets resolved immediately.”
Rodgers said the fragile economic recovery is imperilled by the labour disruptions. “This is a critical time for Canada and the Canadian government needs to take action.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.