A bill was introduced in the Canadian parliament April 26 that would force Montreal port workers to end an unlimited general strike that began the same day at the country’s second largest container gateway.
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Labor Minister Filomena Tassi put forward the back-to-work legislation following a further breakdown in contract negotiations between the Canadian Union of Public Employees 375 and the the Maritime Employers Association.
“Putting forward this notice is our government’s least favored option,” Tassi said. “However, the government must act when all other efforts have been exhausted and a work stoppage is causing significant economic harm to Canadians.”
The general strike is a further escalation from a partial strike that began on April 17, with the longshoremen refusing to work weekend shifts. That action has already created a backlog of 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units of containers, the port said in a statement April 25.
“After several strike episodes in 2020 and 2021, which have had and continue to have serious economic and logistical impact, it is mission-critical that the Port of Montreal be able to fully and sustainably play its strategic role as an economic engine at the service of the local population and SMEs without interruption,” said Martin Imbleau, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority.
A 12-day general strike in August 2020 ended with a seven-month truce that expired in March. That strike created a pileup of nearly 80,000 TEUs that took months to clear.
“Some 20 vessels diverted to competing ports, a trend that certain shipping lines began in recent months given the uncertainty associated with the labor dispute,” the port said.
Total throughput at the Port of Montreal in the first quarter was flat on a year-on-year basis, while total volumes at the competing port of Halifax rose 26% at 72,240 TEUs over the same period.
The most recent data from The Port of New York and New Jersey, which also competes with Montreal for cargoes, showed container volumes increased by 13% in January-February from the same period last year amid a widespread surge in import volumes at North American ports.