Tribunal rejects Montreal port employers’ bid to rule dockworkers as essential

Tribunal rejects Montreal port employers’ bid to rule dockworkers as essential

14 Mar    CP, Finance News, PMN Business

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MONTREAL — A federal tribunal on Thursday reiterated its stance that Montreal port employers cannotrequire employees to work during a strike, paving the way for negotiations to resume ahead of potential job action.

In a summary decision, the Canada Industrial Relations Board rejected a request by the Maritime Employers Association to deem port work an essential service in a bid to prevent a strike on the waterfront.

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The employers and the union representing 2,100 port workers failed to secure a new collective agreement before it expired on Dec. 31, but the case was before the tribunal at that time, postponing possible labour action.

Explaining its ruling, the board cited a2020 decision that the employers association failed to demonstrate “imminent and serious risks to the health and safety of the public” — the criteria for essential activity — in the event of a work stoppage.

“In this decision, the board concluded that no longshoring activity should be maintained at the Port of Montreal in the event of a strike,” board vice-chairwoman Louise Fecteau wrote in French (a ruling upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal).

“There is nothing in the employer’s observations which leads the board to review its previous decision,” she stated.

The Maritime Employers Association said its priority is to reach a negotiated collective agreement, aided by federal mediators.

“Although (the ruling) does not correspond to our expectations, we remain convinced that the continuity and stability of the supply chain is of the utmost importance,” said spokeswoman Isabelle Pelletier in an email.

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In the summer of 2020, Montreal longshore workers launched a 12-day strike that left thousands of containers languishing on the dock at Canada’s second-largest port.

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Last summer, a strike by 7,400 B.C. dockworkers dragged on for 13 days, shutting down the country’s biggest port and costing the economy billions of dollars.

During the 2020 strike in Montreal, Canadian Union of Public Employees members said they would continue to provide mooring services during work stoppages only for supplies to Newfoundland and Labrador and for grain vessels in order to comply with the federal labour code and tribunal decision, respectively.

The strike followed a 21-month battle before the labour board over whether port employees fell under the definition of essential work.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2024.

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