A partial strike by Port of Montreal dockworkers threatens to increase congestion in other parts of North America and further waylay shipments at a time of surging shipping costs and delays. Port of Montreal longshoremen began the first in a series of weekend strikes on April 17. The new tactic comes on top of overtime strikes that were launched during the week. The longshoremen will cease working on Saturdays and Sundays for a limited period, but will not picket. This comes after the Montreal Employers Association stated it will exercise its right to lockout, the workers’ union said, following drawn-out contract negotiations. The 1,150 Port of Montreal longshoremen have been without a collective agreement since September, 2018.

The port’s capacity is now expected to drop by 30%, Montreal Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Martin Imbleau said in a statement. This threatens to add another complication to the global shipping industry already straining to move goods without high costs and long waits. Container carriers are already struggling with port congestion from the U.K. to Singapore, where logjams and delays are expected to worsen with 83 container ships already waiting in queue, according to supply-chain data provider project44.

Many small- and medium-sized businesses rely on shipments that pass through Montreal, which feeds into Canada’s most populated regions and where dockworkers handled 1.6 million containers holding 35 million metric tons of goods and commodities in 2020. About two-thirds of the tonnage was bulk products like oil, fertilizers and iron ore.

A global influx of ship traffic is expected as many of the nearly 400 ships caught up in the Suez Canal blockage, which ended at the end of March, will arrive at their destinations in Europe, Asia and the east coast of North America.

The decreased working hours follow a series of rotating strikes by Montreal dockworkers in 2020. The port took three months to get back to normal after last year’s strike, Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal President Michel Leblanc said. “It’s a decision that’s irresponsible. A port cannot operate part-time,” Leblanc said, as six organizations called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene and make it clear he won’t tolerate a strike.

Some companies have already redirected shipments to the port of Halifax, which is costing some of them as much as $1 million (US$800,000) a week, said Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters association President Veronique Proulx.

“It’s the employer who shot first by modifying the work conditions,” Michel Murray, spokesman for the union that represents Montreal longshoremen, said in a 98.5 FM radio interview. “Longshoremen are asking to have a better work-life balance.”

They earn about US$120,000 to US$125,000 annually because they work 19 days out of 21, and two weekends out of every three, he said. This is more than double the average annual income of US$47,100 in the province of Quebec, Statistics Canada data show.

The union representing dockworkers at the Port of Montreal says it has offered to end its strike, but the Maritime Employers Association has refused to cancel its decision to reduce worker wage conditions. Mediation continues between the two parties, with three mediators on the file. The employer said it is still waiting for a response to an offer it tabled April 15, but SCFP adviser Michel Murray said the union has already said that counter-offer was not acceptable, since it was based on an offer already rejected by 99% of dockworkers in a secret ballot.

Source: Financal Post
Source: Montreal Gazette
Source: CTV News