Montreal dockworkers extend strike

Dockworkers in Montreal announced that they were expanding their current partial strike in the container terminal into a general strike, effective April 26th. Dockers who had already put an overtime ban in place and a refusal to undertake work at weekends have moved to a general strike, which will result in the total cessation of cargo handling and docking services normally provided by dockworkers in the Port of Montreal’s terminals.

Liquid bulk handling and the grain terminal will not be impacted by the strike.

Local 375 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said that the parties had been negotiating, but then their employer, the Maritime Employers’ Association, which represents the terminal operators, announced that it was making changes to the dockworkers’ schedules, starting on Monday April 26th. CUPE claimed that this was the second time in a week that the MEA changed their working conditions.

Michel Murray, spokesman for CUPE local 375, said that “if the Maritime Employers’ Association (MEA) doesn’t want a strike, all it has to do is let up on its pressure tactics and the union will do likewise. No overtime strike. No weekend strike. It’s straightforward. We want to return to the bargaining table”.

The dockworkers have been without a contract since December 2018. At dispute are issues of wages and the work schedules of the longshoremen. Under the expired contract, the dockworkers’ schedule was 19-days-on and two days off, which the union contended was particularly hard on the work-life balance of the longshoremen and not suitable for the modern day and age.

The Montreal Port Authority said that it “deplores a situation that will seriously and tangibly impact the local population and small businesses due to a total shutdown of port operations for an indefinite period of time.”

The latest set of industrial actions began earlier this month after the expiration of a truce that ended a 19-day strike in August 2020.

The dockworkers stopped overtime and weekend work. The port authority claimed that “after a single weekend of stoppage, the impact was already significant with close to 10,000 TEUs grounded, a backlog, and delays in rail convoys, with shipping lines with vessels en route to Montreal obliged to rework their logistics.”

The August 2020 strike caused 20 vessels to divert, primarily to Halifax, Nova Scotia. A total of 80,000 TEU were either diverted to competing ports or grounded.

This time round, carriers had already begun rerouting cargo to other points because of the uncertain situation and the potential for a strike.