MONTREAL, Que. — After rail blockades and the Covid-19 pandemic, the Quebec trucking industry is now facing another issue as the union of longshoremen of the Port of Montreal filed a 72-hour notice indicating that an unlimited general strike will be called on Aug. 10 at 7 a.m.
Operations at the Port of Montreal have been disrupted by short strikes affecting container terminals for the last two weeks. The collective agreement between the longshoremen’s union and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) expired on Dec. 31, 2018. The issue of schedules is at the core of the negotiations.
The strike would affect all terminals this time, including Contrecoeur, but would not affect liquid bulk handling, Oceanex services (Bickerdike terminal) and the grain terminal (Viterra).
Tensions between the two sides escalated this week, as the union accused MEA of using strike-breakers. The MEA replied by saying that it gave tasks to executives, as permitted by law.
The MEA says it has tabled a counterproposal for a truce, which the union’s executive committee has refused.
“The association’s preferred option remains negotiation in order to quickly reach an agreement and we are evaluating all of our options,” the MEA said in a statement.
For the trucking industry, the impacts will be major, warns Marc Cadieux, CEO of the Association du camionnage du Québec (ACQ).
Cadieux sent two letters, one dated Aug. 4, addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and another dated Aug. 5, addressed to the Minister of Labor, Filomena Tassi, and other ministers concerned, asking they take the necessary measures to help the two parties to find a solution to this labor dispute. Steps taken could range from appointing a mediator to passing a special bill.
For some carriers, port activities represent more than 70% of their operations. An indefinite general strike would inevitably result in layoffs.
“Since the start of the year, our industry has been hit hard. Transporters are currently in a precarious situation. Many of them are out of breath,” said Cadieux. “Now carriers are going to tell truckers as of Monday that they have no more work for them?”
Ships are already redirected to Halifax, New York, Saint-Jean New Brunswick and possibly a few to Quebec City.
Activities at the Port of Montreal directly affect a pool of 110 million people. A shutdown or a slowdown in services would have an impact on the populations of Quebec, Ontario and the Maritime provinces, underlines the ACQ.
“There are direct jobs, but also several indirect jobs, such as shippers who handle or redistribute containers. The side effects are considerable,” Cadieux said. “This is a major situation. The federal government must get involved quickly and meaningfully.”
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