The House of Commons is expected late Wednesday night to approve legislation to put an end to the strike involving 1,150 dockworkers at the Port of Montreal.
Operations at the port came to a halt after the dockworkers began a strike Monday morning, causing a complete shutdown at one of Canada’s busiest ports, through which millions of tonnes of goods flow each year.
Labour Minister Filomena Tassi said if the strike is allowed to drag on, it will cost the economy $40 million to $100 million per week.
And 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.
“I cannot impress upon you enough, this situation is dire,” she told the Commons on Wednesday.
“The supply chains are critical and we have to keep good s moving. And this is really a situation where, for the health and safety of Canadians and the economy, we must take this action.”
Tassi said the back-to-work legislation is a last resort after more than two years of efforts to find a negotiated solution failed.
Workers at the port have been without a contract since December 2018 and started to refuse overtime and weekend work earlier this month.
The union previously held a 10-day strike in August.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the dockworkers, says the current dispute was sparked by their employer, the Maritime Employers Association, imposing extended workday hours without consulting workers.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said the strike could be called off immediately if the federal government ordered the employers association to cancel the work schedule changes.
“Take your damn phone, call them,” he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the bill undermines the right to collective bargaining and will do long-term damage to relations between dockworkers and their employer that will cause tensions down the road.
The government has also been criticized by the Conservatives for not doing enough to avert the strike. But the party’s leader, Erin O’Toole, has said his party will support the legislation because of the potential damage a prolonged strike could cause Canada’s economy.
Conservatives abstained Wednesday on a vote to impose closure on debate over a motion setting out the procedural steps for fast-tracking the back-to-work bill.
That allowed the closure motion to pass by a vote of 152-58, paving the way for hours of debate on the procedural motion and, eventually, on the bill itself.
A vote on the bill was expected to take place in the wee hours of the night.