Port of Montreal tells businesses to expect shipping delays as workers set to head back on the job

Port of Montreal activities will resume Sunday morning. The Senate has passed legislation that will force 1,150 dockworkers to head back on the job after a five-day strike.

The Liberals have failed Canadian workers, union says

The Port of Montreal says there are close to 20,000 shipping containers on its territory because of this week's strike. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The Senate has passed legislation to force more than a thousand striking dockworkers to head back on the job, and while activities at the Port of Montreal are set to resume, businesses waiting to ship or receive goods should expect delays.

The Port of Montreal Operations Act, also known as Bill C-29, was adopted by the Senate Friday night, a day after the bill was approved in the House of Commons, thanks to the Conservatives joining forces with the minority Liberal government.

The bill was tabled earlier this week in response to 1,150 Montreal port workers going on strike.

Negotiations for a new collective agreement with the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) deteriorated following a seven-month truce that began last August.

That truce was reached after a 12-day strike paralyzed operations at one of the country's busiest ports. 

"We must act now to bring a resolution to this ongoing dispute and prevent further harm,'' Labour Minister Filomena Tassi told the Senate, adding that the strike has caused significant harm to the Canadian economy. 

Each of the port's terminals will be open and in service Sunday at 7 a.m. In a statement, the Port of Montreal said there are nearly 20,000 containers on its territory due to this week's strike.

"The return to a regular flow of goods will require several days of work by port workers and those involved in the logistics chain," the statement reads. 

"Clients waiting to either import or export merchandise should expect delays in the coming weeks."

Striking Port of Montreal dockworkers applaud speeches during Thursday's rally in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Union vows to challenge law in court

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), with which the Montreal port workers are affiliated, described the passing of Bill C-29 as "embarrassing" for all Canadians and unconstitutional because it prevents its members from striking. 

In a statement, CUPE said it would challenge the law in court.

The union has maintained that forcing a return to work through legislation essentially removed all incentives for the employers to negotiate a deal in good faith.

"The Liberals haven't just failed dockworkers in Montreal, they've failed all working people in Canada," said Mark Hancock, CUPE's national president.

"Prime Minister Trudeau just sent a loud and clear message to every employer in the country: don't bother bargaining in good faith with your workers, because if things get tough, we'll be there to bail you out," he added.

Workers at the port have been without a collective agreement since December 2018. 

The CUPE's local chapter that represents the dockworkers said the latest dispute was sparked when the employer began imposing longer workday hours without consulting workers. 

On Friday, Martin Tessier, the president of the MEA, told the Senate extended shifts would no longer be imposed once the bill passed.

Port workers took part in Saturday's May Day protests in Montreal.