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Port of Montreal reopens after strike truce

THE Port of Montreal is back in business after longshore workers and employers agreed to a seven-month truce that will end an 11-day strike that had caused shipping companies to reroute cargo to other ports in Canada and the US

24 August 2020 - 19:00

THE Port of Montreal is back in business after longshore workers and employers agreed to a seven-month truce that will end an 11-day strike that had caused shipping companies to reroute cargo to other ports in Canada and the US.

The truce will last until March 2021, a representative from the employer group said. Canada's second-largest port was set to reopen two days ago on Sunday pending final negotiations between the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the union representing longshore workers.



Both sides voiced optimism that they can agree on a new contract before the seven months ends.



'We are truly confident we will reach a deal,' Martin Tessier, MEA president, told reporters in Montreal. 'It will take two to four weeks to recover,' Mr Tessier said.



Longshore workers went on strike at the port on August 10. Without a contract since 2018, they are seeking higher wages and changes to hours and working conditions.



Discussions over the workers' demands will continue as work resumes. The longshore workers' union has been pressing for better scheduling, arguing that workers who are asked to be on call for 19 out of every 21 days have no work-life balance. They have been working without a contract since the end of 2018.



Montreal's port handles more than US$75 billion of merchandise a year. It is second to Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canadian container imports, according to Piers, a data service of IHS Markit, and is the country's main maritime gateway for trade with Europe.



The forestry industry was particularly worried about the impact of an extended port closure. A lumber shortage has caused prices for the commodity to climb, and lumber companies that are already scrambling were having trouble getting supplies and equipment, said Joel Neuheimer, vice president of international trade and transportation for the Forest Products Association of Canada.



'The industry is trying to catch up with demand, and it's having trouble sourcing materials it needs to recover,' he said.



The stoppage also could have hurt the auto sector, food processors and mining companies, said government officials for the provinces of Quebec and Ontario who wrote a letter asking the federal government to intervene.



Businesses and some politicians had been growing increasingly alarmed at the port strike and impacts on the supply chain as vessels diverted to other ports, mainly Halifax. The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected calls to intervene.



Corey Darbyson, director of Transport DSquare, an intermodal trucking company that services the port, welcomed the tentative agreement.



'It's going to help maintain the supply chain and give people a paycheck,' Mr Darbyson said.



He expects the impacts of the strike will be relatively short-lived, noting 'Montreal is a port city.'



DSquare managed to find some silver linings from the disruption. While the carrier took a hit from the falloff in incoming vessels, it picked up a lot of business of hauling containers to Halifax that CN and Canadian Pacific railways couldn't accommodate.



'It was good for us in some ways,' Mr Darbyson said, according to media reports.


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