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Business leaders call for government intervention in Montreal Port dispute

Business leaders and organisations in Eastern Canada have asked the government to intervene in the dispute between the Montreal Dockers and the Maritime Employer Association (MEA).

At a press conference yesterday, 10 August, the group, including the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM), Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ), Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ) and Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec (MEQ), claimed the economic damage from the strike could be substantial.

The group called on Canada’s Minister of Labour, Filomena Tassi, to take steps that will help resolve the dispute.

According to the business associations, the industrial dispute between the MEA and the unions “is undermining supply chain efficiency and holding the entire economy hostage at a crucial time when every effort should instead be devoted to its recovery.”

Statistics Canada reports that 35.4% of businesses are experiencing a medium to high level of impact in terms of their inability to move or ship goods due to disruptions in supply chains caused by Covid-19.

“More than 19,000 jobs in Montréal and Quebec directly or indirectly stem from its [the Port of Montreal’s] activities, and the Port generates economic spin-offs of C$2.6 billion (US$1.95 billion) annually,” said the associations in a statement.

However, the group also claims that the effects of the industrial action will affect a far broader “ecosystem” of trade across North America, including the Quebec, Ontario and the US Midwest, while the St. Lawrence–Great Lakes corridor represents a major multimodal North American trade route.

“It should also be noted that 98% of importers and exporters in Quebec and 93% of importers and exporters in Ontario choose the Port of Montreal to reach Europe,” added the group.

The MEA has added its voice to the call for action to prevent economic damage as businesses struggle to manage the crisis caused by the global pandemic.

A spokeswoman for the MEA told Container News, the dockers want a better work life balance, but they are compensated fairly, C$120,000 (US$90,000) annually to compensate for the difficulties caused by the short lead times for work schedules.

“At the moment everyone is losing their jobs, except the dockers, they are in secure employment on a generous salary, if they want better conditions then something has to give,” said the spokeswoman.

In addition, she claimed that at no point has the MEA refused to negotiate, saying that there have been more than 70 negotiations since the autumn of 2018 in this dispute with no resolution. According to the spokeswoman the negotiations are conducted through the Federal Mediation Service, so there is “no point at which the parties can refuse to negotiate”.

The MEA spokeswoman added that the “MEA had offered a truce, with an obligation for a result after 45 days, but the union rejected the proposal.”

The union itself offered a truce without the obligation of a result which the MEA rejected because they “did not feel, that given passed experience, the truce wouldn’t lead anywhere without an obligation of a result.”

However, the spokeswoman also conceded as “logical” that the union could not accept a proposal for a truce with an obligation of a result because that would remove their most significant bargaining tool of withdrawing labour.

Nick Savvides
Managing Editor

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