Ottawa ignores calls from provinces to get involved in Port of Montreal strike

Ontario and Quebec are worried about the economic impact of the strike and wanted the federal government to help resolve the dispute.

'We know the best deals are made at the table' Tassi says in response to demand from Ontario and Quebec

Striking Port of Montreal workers brave the elements to walk the picket line in Montreal on Monday. The strike is entering its second week. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The federal government is refusing a plea from Ontario and Quebec to get involved in a strike at the Port of Montreal that is now entering its second week. 

In a statement released late Monday, Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said there had been recent progress in the negotiations.

"Our government has faith in the collective bargaining process, as we know the best deals are made at the table," the statement said. 

Tassi was responding to a letter co-signed by ministers in the Quebec and Ontario governments that calls on Ottawa to help resolve the labour dispute.

The letter, signed by Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet, Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, and their Ontario counterparts — Monte McNaughton and Victor Fedeli — says the port is "a strategic element for the economic vitality of Montreal and for Quebec, but also for Ontario and Eastern Canada."

About $100 billion in merchandise passes through the port each year. Ontario and Quebec — both headed by centre-right governments — worry the strike threatens the food, manufacturing, retail and auto industries.

The letter calls for Ottawa to "promote dialogue between the parties with the goal of quickly reaching a negotiated agreement," but stops short of asking for back-to-work legislation.

A spokesperson for Tassi said earlier Monday that such legislation is not planned while negotiations continue.

Workers calling for better work-life balance

Local 375 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees began the indefinite strike last Monday, after port management rerouted ships and reduced night-shift pay. The port was reacting to a series of daytime walkouts earlier this summer.

The union representing 1,125 longshore and maintenance workers, as well as supervisors, is in negotiations with its employer, the Maritime Employers Association. It has been without a contract since the end of 2018.

The union representing 1,125 longshore and maintenance workers as well as supervisors has been without a contract since the end of 2018. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The union says shift work is at the heart of the negotiations, with the present situation making a healthy work-life balance impossible.

Currently, employees work 19 days in a row and then have two days off.  They earn, on average, about $110,000 a year.

The employer, the Maritime Employers Association, has asked for the parties to enter binding arbitration to resolve the dispute, a proposal that the union has rejected.

Last week, five of the province's major business groups said the situation needed to be resolved as soon as possible.

The president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, Michel Leblanc, said the situation was critical, and the consequences would be felt across the province.

"Beyond businesses in the logistical ecosystem, it is all the companies in Quebec, it is all the workers, all the families in Quebec who could be impacted if this goes on," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada

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