MONTREAL — A general strike at the Port of Montreal is set to begin on Monday after the union representing dockworkers issued the required 72-hour notice to the Maritime Employers Association.
Barring a last-minute reprieve, the 1,150 port workers affiliated with the Canadian Union of Public Employees will be in a legal strike position as of Monday at 7 a.m., which would paralyze the port.
The dockworkers have been on an overtime strike and refused to work on weekends since April 17 and 18.
They say the actions are in response to a change in work shifts the Maritime Employers Association wants to impose as of Monday. That would see thwork seven-hour shifts, up from five hours and 20 minutes.
The union said it is responding to "frontal attacks" from the employer "to try to bend" the workers.
"If the employer agrees to lift its measures, we would normally lift our overtime strike, our weekend strike and our Monday morning indefinite general strike notice and operations would resume immediately in the port," said Michel Murray, CUPE union adviser, at a Friday news conference.
He said the Maritime Employers Association does not want to negotiate and is pursuing a position of provocation in order to force Ottawa to react.
The MEA said it was disappointed with the union executive's decision, adding that it is reviewing its options and wants a quick resolution to the impasse.
Quebec's minister of the economy and innovation, Pierre Fitzgibbon, on Twitter called on the federal government to “intervene quickly,” without specifying exactly what he wants.
The port is "a strategic public service for the revival of our economy," he tweeted. "Now is not the time to cripple it with a strike. Our companies have already suffered enough from this labour dispute.”
Federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi wouldn't say if she will intervene in the dispute and her office said she was not available for an interview.
In a written statement, the minister describes the events of Friday as "a very worrying escalation." Businesses and the economy "need to see this situation resolved quickly," she said, adding that "we are currently looking at all options."
In Ottawa, the New Democratic Party called for the Trudeau government to stand up for workers' rights and asked it not to introduce back-to-work legislation.
“Ottawa has already suggested that such a law is in the works; nothing surprising coming from the Liberals who have at heart only the interests of the richest,” said deputy leader Alexandre Boulerice.
Montreal Board of Trade CEO Michel Leblanc, said that "the union is taking the economy hostage," a situation he considers "totally irresponsible and unacceptable."
Meanwhile, the Quebec Employers Council noted that the Port of Montreal is "an essential link" in the supply chain.
“For us it is an essential service that cannot stop functioning. The federal government has all the tools to act," and should do so, president and CEO Karl Blackburn said.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimated that the strike will be "very damaging."
The dockworkers at the Port of Montreal have been without an employment contract since December 2018.
They started a first strike last summer, which ended in a truce that lasted seven months.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2021.
The Canadian Press