Politics

Port of Montreal union vows to contest federal back-to-work order

Striking Port of Montreal workers may be facing a back-to-work order by the federal government early Thursday morning, but they refuse to go quietly. "The union will contest the validity of this bill," said Michel Murray, a spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Bill aimed at quickly reopening port, where flow of millions of tonnes of goods has been halted

Striking Port of Montreal dockworkers rally outside the union headquarters in Montreal on Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Striking Port of Montreal workers may be facing a back-to-work order by the federal government early Thursday morning, but they refuse to go quietly.

"The union will contest the validity of this bill," said Michel Murray, a spokesperson for the chapter 375 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Calling the back-to-work order unconstitutional, he said the union has filed complaints with the International Labour Organization because Canada is a signatory on two international treaties regarding the right of workers to strike.

Conservatives joined forces with the minority Liberal government early Thursday morning to pass Bill C-29 by a vote of 255-61. It must still be passed by the Senate, which is scheduled to deal with the bill Friday.

The bill is aimed at quickly reopening the Port of Montreal, where the flow of millions of tonnes of goods came to a halt after 1,150 dockworkers began a strike Monday morning.

The Maritime Employers Association (MEA), which served lockout notice on April 10, announced it would not honour job security provisions in the collective agreement and extended workers' shifts by up to 100 minutes, CUPE said in a statement.

The MEA said in its own statement that the decision to stop paying for hours not worked is due to a drop in volume at the port.

This marked drop in volume, in contrast to increases seen across North America, is a direct result of the uncertainty caused by the current labour relations situation, the MEA said.

Union slams new legislation

"Throughout this process, we were clear we would return to work if the employer walked back their unfair, unilateral changes to our members' work conditions," said CUPE's national president Mark Hancock in the statement.

"But it was obvious the employer preferred to avoid bargaining altogether, and they successfully duped the Liberals into tipping the scales in their favour."

Three Liberals, as well as Bloc Québécois, NDP and Green MPs, voted against the back-to-work order.

During late-night debate on the bill Wednesday, Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said if the strike is allowed to drag on it would cost the economy $40 million to $100 million per week, directly threatening 19,000 jobs and indirectly affecting hundreds of thousands of other jobs across the country.

Michel Murray (left), spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, greets a striking Port of Montreal dockworker during a rally in Montreal on Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

She said it's a matter of life and death because the strike has left essential medical supplies and pharmaceuticals sitting in shipping containers as the COVID-19 pandemic rages. 

CUPE, which represents the 1,150 dock workers, immediately condemned the legislation Tassi introduced.

Murray said the local branch offered to ensure any cargo related to the pandemic was moved quickly, but the employer never took the union up on that offer.

"The courts say time and time again that back-to-work legislation violates charter rights, and Mr. Trudeau has made it clear today that he does not respect the charter that his father brought in as prime minister," said CUPE's national secretary-treasurer Charles Fleury in a statement.

with files from The Canadian Press

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