Canadian Government Declines to Intervene in Port of Montreal Strike

syndicat longshore workers on strike
Port of Montreal longshoremen on strike, August 18 (Image courtesy Syndicat Des Debardeurs - SCFP Section Locale 375)

Published Aug 18, 2020 2:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

The provinces of Ontario and Quebec are requesting assistance from Canada's federal government for resolving a protracted labor dispute at the Port of Montreal, which is interfering with the port's cargo flow. 

The strike, which began on August 10, centers on a dispute between an umbrella group for terminal operators and the longshore union over working hours. Local 375 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees has been operating without a contract since 2018, and though its members are well compensated, they have expressed displeasure at a long-running 19-day-on / two-day off schedule that allegedly leaves little time for "work-life balance." 

So far, about 15 boxships have diverted to other ports in the region due to the strike, leading to delays and several hundred dollars per box in extra shipping costs. About 90,000 import and export boxes have been affected so far, and about 300,000 tonnes of bulk cargoes could be affected if the strike continues. The region's auto manufacturing industry is already feeling the effects of a parts shortage, according to the government of Quebec.

The strike does not affect grain shipments, nor cargoes for Newfoundland and Labrador, in line with an order from Canada's Industrial Relations Board. Neither will it affect petroleum cargoes, according to the port. 

Quebec's ministers of economy and labor warned Sunday that the conflict is having negative repercussions for all of Eastern Canada, not just Montreal or Quebec. Port of Montreal is the leading port in the region and the only container port on the St. Lawrence. It handles about $75 billion in cargo annually and generates $2 billion in economic activity, handling about 2,000 port calls per year. About 6,000 transport companies depend upon its operations. 

"This strike has significant impacts for the Port of Montreal, but also, and above all, on importers, exporters, businesses and ultimately on citizens of all of Quebec. In addition, this situation comes on top of an economic crisis linked to the COVID-19 pandemic which is already having negative effects," said Quebec's minister of the economy, Pierre Fitzgibbon. 

Despite the appeal from the provinces, the Canadian federal government has declined to intervene and has put the onus of reaching an agreement on the port and 

"Our government has faith in the collective bargaining process, as we know the best deals are made at the table," Canadian Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said in a statement Monday.