Photo: Port of Montreal

Montreal labour dispute may cause major disruptions, association warns

The mere threat of a work stoppage by longshore workers at Canada’s Port of Montreal is forcing North American importers and exporters to divert large volumes of international cargo away from the port and is already causing havoc to supply chains, the Shipping Federation of Canada said.

Image Courtesy: Port of Montreal

The national trade association, which represents the interests of owners, operators and agents of ocean-going ships, stressed that damage to the local, provincial and national economies would be significant and could not happen at a worse time, considering the complex logistics involved in delivering medical supplies and equipment in the midst of a pandemic. 

The organization is also concerned that once logistics chains are re-organized around other hubs, including those in the United States, it will be difficult to re-establish arrangements through the Montreal Port.

“The federation believes that a port strike would have dire, long lasting consequences and strongly encourages all stakeholders to deploy every effort to obtain a settlement. Time is of the essence,” the Shipping Federation of Canada pointed out in a statement.

Last summer, longshore workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) agreed a negotiation truce following strikes in Montreal that significantly disrupted supply chains and the Canadian economy.

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However, the truce is set to expire on 20 March 2021.

The imminent possibility of another labour action in the port is a serious threat to Montreal, the province and the overall Canadian economy, Bruce Rodgers, Executive Director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) said last month.

“We have still not fully recovered from the strike in the port last August, which according to Statistics Canada cost wholesalers $600 million in sales,” Rodgers noted.

“To have another interruption now will really stick a knife in the Canadian economy.”

The work stoppages in 2020 have significantly affected operations in the container sector — more than 20 container ships have been diverted from Montreal to competing ports and about 80,000 TEUs grounded or rerouted. Altogether, it took over three months (85 days) to clear these backlogs and return to what could be considered normal operations.

The longstanding issue has been revolving around wages and work schedules. The abovementioned union, representing 1,125 longshore workers, has been attempting to renegotiate a contract since the collective agreement expired in 2018.