On Tuesday, workers at the Port of Montreal announced a partial strike in response to the actions of the Maritime Employers Association (MEA), which suspended guaranteed minimum pay and will instead pay on actual hours worked. The strike notice, filed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Longshoremen’s Union Local 375 calls to suspend activities such as overtime, training, and all weekend work at Canada’s second busiest port.
The Maritime Employers Association proposed the move to compensation based on actual hours worked after cargo volume at the port decreased. While the longshoremen will continue to handle containers related to the pandemic and provide offloading services, any above and beyond services will be halted. The longtime strained relationship between port workers and the association and their tumultuous history indicates that a full-on strike at the port might be on the horizon.
The Pressure is On
While a full strike looming, the pressure is on the federal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene to avoid the disruption. The Prime Minister has been reluctant to do more than provide mediation during previous labor disputes, but a strike at the port now will have major repercussions not only for the region of Quebec but for neighboring provinces and Canada’s trading partners. Many Canadian business associations are asking for help from the government immediately before the situation gets any worse.
Michel Leblac, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal said, “The situation is deteriorating at the Port of Montreal. The port is a strategic, essential pillar for the health of our businesses and a successful relaunch. The decisions we make today will have repercussions for months.” He goes on to say that the government must act now to avoid an economic disaster, as the country tries to bounce back from the pandemic.
Six business organizations have issued a joint declaration calling for the government to ensure that activities are maintained at the port. There are over 450 signatures from different sectors of activity from Quebec and Ontario.
Port of Halifax Gets Ready
The Port of Halifax is preparing for the aftermath of a potential full strike, should there be one. Halifax, which is Canada’s four busiest ports, may receive additional volume should the strike escalate. Unlike the Port of Montreal, Halifax has maintained high cargo volumes due to COVID-19 demand. If the strike increases the amount of cargo to Halifax, the port will prioritize regularly scheduled services. Given its current volume level, it will not be able to fully handle diverted freight coming from the Port of Montreal.
With over 2,400 containers moving through the Port of Montreal daily, a full strike would mean further container shipping delays at a time when delays are already prevalent. This will have major repercussions for the Canadian economy as well as the supply of goods coming to and entering Canada. The timing of it could not be worse as local businesses attempt to rebuild after pandemic shutdowns. A disruption to the supply chain would have major consequences for Canadian businesses.
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