Port of Montreal CEO lashes out at labour action

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by Emily Atkins

Martin Imbleau, the CEO of the Port of Montreal issued a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, April 13, criticizing the partial strike action initiated by the dock workers’ union.

Imbleau said the port is facing a 30 percent cut in capacity as a result of the partial strike called over the weekend by CUPE 375, the port’s longshore union.

On Tuesday, the union’s members went on overtime strike and will no longer extend shifts beyond the regular eight hours.

The union was responding to a notice from the Maritime Employers’ Association (MEA), in which it said it would remove the income guarantee and stop paying four hours that are not worked. The MEA said in a LinkedIn post that the move was in response to a “substantial 11 percent volume drop in March [at the port], caused by the uncertainty and anxiety triggered by the labour relations situation.”

In his statement, Imbleau said, “the tense situation of labour relations at the port significantly affects the reliability of port operations. The reduced scope of scheduled work will generate delays and additional costs for clients in Quebec and Ontario. Public services are rarely offered on a part-time basis, yet this is what will be imposed on the thousands of businesses that are the Port of Montreal’s raison d’être.

“The current labour dispute means that port operations will only be partially available and capacities will be slashed. For the thousands of exporters and importers as well as the general public, who all count on this means of provision, the parties must recognize the strategic nature of this public service and quickly reach an agreement.”

He is backed by the Quebec Trucking Association (ACQ), and a group of economic stakeholders which issued a statement on Tuesday calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to act in the conflict between the longshoremen of the Port of Montreal and their workers.

The groups called for the firm and immediate intervention of the federal government to ensure the full maintenance, at all times, of activities at the Port of Montreal and to reassure businesses.

The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is also calling on the federal government to intervene to ensure service continuity at the port.

“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week. Industry will have to absorb these costs and delays, and it will ultimately hurt consumers,” said CME president and CEO Dennis Darby.

“The situation also threatens manufacturers’ ability to get the materials they need to make essential goods for Canadians. We must prevent a repeat of last summer. Supply chains, businesses, our economic recovery, and the livelihoods of hardworking Canadians cannot sustain further shutdowns.”

As Canada’s economy continues to struggle with the global pandemic, this strike action at the Port of Montreal will further impact an already fragile manufacturing supply chain, particularly in Quebec and Ontario, CME said in a statement.

“As governments are investing billions of dollars to restart the economy, it doesn’t make any sense to allow a slowdown of operations at the Port of Montreal. This is why we need the federal government to intervene”, Darby added.

Every day, 2,500 trucks pass through the Port of Montreal, which represents more than 2,400 containers per day. The CEO of the ACQ, Marc Cadieux, recalled that the members of the ACQ are already seeing a decrease in volumes and a diversion of goods to other ports.

“For the affected transport companies, this means job losses as the shutdown of port operations forces carriers to suspend their activities and reduce their staff. The announcement of a new strike, due to start tonight, is totally unacceptable in the current context of post-pandemic economic recovery. This is why we are asking today that Prime Minister Trudeau examine the situation personally,” Cadieux said.

Imbleau pointed out the economic importance of the port, noting that every year, $100 billion worth of goods pass through it.

He added that the port is “being hit by a climate of uncertainty incompatible with a shipping industry that must choose to divert its vessels to provide a minimum of reliability despite the added delays and costs”. Montreal is being outpaced by East Coast competitors he said.