Montreal's Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery is the largest in Canada. ((Radio-Canada))

Maintenancestaff at Montreal's famous Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery have been locked out by managers, who say they want to stop pressure tactics that were disturbing mourning families.

They were referring to a three-day strike at the cemetery, the country's largest, that resulted in the cancellation of weekend burials. The cemetery's management retaliated by lockingoutthe 180 workers on Tuesday morning.

The situation was getting out of hand and the cemetery had no choice, management spokesman Guy Dufort said.

"Families go there to visit their loved ones who have died. They go on the premises, and the premises[are] full of garbage, full of paper, it's totally unkempt, and you've got stickers on the monuments. This is not very respectful of the deceased."

The cemetery grounds remain open, but burials, cremations and ground maintenancehave beenpostponed until the dispute is resolved, Dufort said.

The employees, who have been without a contract since the end of 2003, are seeking guaranteed time for seasonal workers, increased pay, benefits and pensions, and a four-day work week.

The cemetery has said it can't afford to guarantee 36 weeks of work a year or increase wages.It says the pay isgenerous, compared to other Canadian cemeteries.

More than 175,000 people visit the cemetery every year. Built in 1854, the cemetery covers nearly 139 hectares and is home to rare tree species.

Nearly a million people are buried on the grounds,including former Governor General Jeanne Sauvé, assassinated patriot Thomas d'Arcy McGee, Montreal journalist Nick Auf der Maur, former mayor Jean Drapeau and Marc Lépine, the mass murderer responsible for the 1989 Montreal Massacre.