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Ottawa won’t intervene to end strike at Port of Montreal, says labour minister

Striking workers picket in front of the Port of Montreal, in Montreal, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. The workers have been without a contract for over two years.
Striking workers picket in front of the Port of Montreal, in Montreal, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. The workers have been without a contract for over two years. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Canada’s labour minister has rejected requests to intervene in a strike launched Monday by Port of Montreal workers.

“We have faith in the collective bargaining process, as we know the best deals are made at the table,” Filomena Tassi said in a statement.

“Our government’s clear expectation is for both parties to work together to resolve their differences quickly. We will be monitoring the situation closely, and looking into how to support the ongoing mediation efforts.”

Tassi said federal mediation teams have met with both parties on many occasions since the collective agreements expired Dec. 31, 2018, and continue to be present and available.

Earlier, five groups that represent Quebec’s private sector called on Ottawa to intervene to force the resumption of port activities because the strike is “taking the economy hostage.”

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READ MORE: Longshore workers at Port of Montreal launch unlimited strike as contract talks stall

“The effects of a prolonged strike on Montreal’s and Quebec’s economy will be devastating,” stated Montreal Board of Trade president Michel Leblanc.

“With every passing day, the strike will further slow the recovery of our economy. We will lose opportunities for future growth. There is a risk that the ships that are taking Montreal off their routes today will not be coming back.”

The longshore workers’ union failed to reach an agreement with the Maritime Employers Association despite discussions that continued until early Monday morning.

The union said the port-wide strike relates to scheduling and wage conditions.

The employers association said it believes the solution lies in a truce that would result in binding arbitration if no agreement is reached after two months.

READ MORE: Port of Montreal longshoremen’s union launches 4-day strike over working hours

The strike shut down activity at Canada’s second-largest port with the exception of grain transport and shipments to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Tassi said the government understands the importance of the port and its workers to the Canadian economy.

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She and Transport Minister Marc Garneau have told the parties to focus on reaching an agreement and avoid further disruption.

The labour action by more than 1,100 longshore workers comes after a series of temporary strikes by the Canadian Union of Public Employees over the past six weeks saw several ships diverted to ports in Halifax, New York City and Saint John, N.B.