Montreal

Truce at Montreal port: agreement to negotiate means cargo will move again

The more than 1,100 employees have halted their strike for seven months, to allow talks to continue and Canada's second-largest port to reopen Sunday.

More than 1,100 employees halt their strike, port to reopen Sunday

Michel Murray, left, spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, listens to Martin Tessier, president of the Maritime Employers Association, during a news conference in Montreal Friday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Employers and dockworkers at the Port of Montreal have reached a truce after a 12-day strike, paving the way for Canada's second largest port to reopen Sunday.

The two sides have agreed to halt a labour action that has left thousands of containers rooted to the docks. The deal lays out a seven-month period to continue contract talks while port operations carry on without the threat of work stoppages.

"We are confident that we will be able to reach a deal between now and that ... time," Maritime Employers Association CEO Martin Tessier said at a news conference Friday.

If an agreement is not reached by March of next year, the workers can again exercise their right to strike.

The last few days saw tensions flare after employers said they were prepared to bring in replacement workers to move some of the 11,500 containers that have piled up on the waterfront — particularly those with essential goods, perishable food products or items linked to the fight against COVID-19.

However, talks late Thursday night and Friday morning resulted in the truce.

"It's very important for me ... I haven't really seen my daughters for three weeks," said Michel Murray, a spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees. "The struggle was emotional for both parties."

Both sides say they have agreed not to speak to the media about the progress toward a collective agreement, allowing more breathing room for the negotiators.

The 1,125 workers, who have been without a collective agreement since September 2018, say the strike revolved largely around wages and scheduling.

Federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi had refused to intervene in the negotiations, citing her belief in the bargaining process despite calls from industry groups and the Ontario and Quebec governments for more direct involvement.

Agreement in principle with one group of workers

The employers have reached an agreement in principle with the port's 150-odd checkers, who are responsible for logging the cargo loaded and unloaded from hundreds of ships each year.

Members of the International Longshoremen's Association local, on strike since Aug. 10, will hold a vote on the deal Monday, Tessier said.

It will take two to four weeks to move the accumulated containers off the terminals and onto trucks, trains and ships.

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