The Maritime Employers Association (MEA), represents the terminal operators at the Port of Montreal, and is the bargaining agent with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 375 (CUPE, 375), representing Longshore workers employed at the Port of Montreal.
The last agreement for the approximately 870 Longshore workers expired on December 31, 2018. The parties have been negotiating a new agreement since that time, but as of February 15, 2021, no agreement has been reached.
In 2018, the MEA approached the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) and requested that they declare the longshore workers an “essential service” under the Canada Labour Code, which would mean that strikes or lockouts for these workers would be illegal. During the period while this was before the CIRB, strikes or lockouts were not permitted.
On June 8 2020, the CIRB ruled that the longshore workers did not meet the definition of an “essential service” under the Canada Labour Code. While this matter was before the CIRB, the negotiations continued with the involvement of the Labour Canada Mediation Service.
After the June CIRB decision, there were some minor disruptions to service and, following the mandatory 72-hour notice, the union called a strike effective August 10 that lasted approximately 10 days. FMA and other stakeholders wrote to the Labour Minister and other cabinet ministers requesting urgent action by the government to end this work stoppage which was causing further damage to the Canadian economy already under strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A copy of the FMA August 10 letter is attached.
The Port of Montreal is the second largest port in Canada in terms of traffic volume and this work stoppage caused widespread disruption to supply chains in many parts of Canada and in the U.S. mid-west. The effects of the disruption lasted well into the fall of 2020 with cargos diverted to the Port of Halifax and other North American east-coast ports. It led to container imbalances for importers and exporters.
Following the end of the strike, both parties agreed to continue with the mediated bargaining and agreed on a seven-month “truce” with regard to work stoppages on August 21, 2020, in the expectation that an agreement would be reached before the expiry date of March 20, 2021.
The Current Situation
FMA has made recent inquiries to several organizations. Labour Canada has confirmed that negotiations with mediators are continuing.
The negotiating parties are, of course, not commenting on the details of the discussions, but as negotiations have been on-going for over two years, this indicates that reaching a settlement is proving difficult.
As the March 20 deadline, ending the job-action truce is approaching, importers and exporters are beginning to move shipments away from the Port of Montreal. FMA has discussed its concerns with MEA about possible strike action following the end of the truce on March 20. They indicate that effective March 21, further job action could be started. A second alternative is that MEA and CUPE could jointly agree to extend the truce deadline. If a strike or lock-out is called, a 72-hour notice is required, which means the earliest that a strike or lock out could start is 0001 hours, March 24, assuming the deadline ended at 2359 hours on March 20.
FMA and other industry associations will again be writing to the Ministers of Labour and Transport, and other cabinet members pointing out the damage to the Canadian economy and FMA recommends that member companies also write to the government. The FMA letter and the contact details for the relevant cabinet members will be shared with the membership within the next few days.
Demurrage Charges Resulting From Last August’s Strike
FMA members are reporting that their containers, which were delayed due to the strike and resulting congestion and beyond the control of the beneficial cargo owner, have been subject to arbitrary demurrage charges. Indications are that some FMA members have been successful in negotiating reductions or removal of these charges with the terminal operator or marine carrier.
If other FMA members are facing such charges, such information would be helpful to FMA in its outreach to government. All company specific details will be kept confidential and only aggregated information will be used in any outreach.