Business groups advocating for rail to be declared an essential service in the wake of this week’s temporary work stoppage at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. say a “permanent solution” is needed to ease this country’s supply chain woes.
In an interview Wednesday, Fertilizer Canada president and chief executive Karen Proud said that since 2019, her industry has dealt with strikes at Canadian National Railway Co. and the Port of Montreal, in addition to the most recent labour dispute at CP.
That’s on top of other supply chain disruptions that have resulted from COVID-19, natural disasters like wildfires and flooding and recent border blockades and protests.
“We every few years seem to get stuck in the same situation. Sometimes a couple of times a year,” she said. “In the long-term, we’re really hoping that the government will look at this.”
While CP employees are back at work now after the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference and the Calgary-based company agreed Tuesday to final and binding arbitration to end a 48-hour work stoppage, Proud said many business groups are jittery about the prospect of future labour-related supply chain disruptions – especially as a number of important collective agreements, including contracts between CP rival Canadian National Railway Co. and its employees, are set to expire later this year.
She said while some of the issues that have plagued Canada’s supply chain in the past two years have been beyond anyone’s control, “man-made issues” like labour disputes can be addressed.
“I think looking at rail is an essential service is a viable solution,” Proud said. “The question is whether the government is willing to go there.”
In an interview earlier this week, federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said that when the dust from this recent negotiation and work stoppage at CP settles, it may be time for the government to look at finding a way to bring more certainty to future contract talks.
But he said he’s not bullish on the idea of making rail an essential service because that takes away the rights of workers to bargain.
The Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents the country’s grain shippers, said in a recent statement that railways are the “economy’s lifeblood” and must be treated as so.
“We cannot afford to face another massive disruption to our economy where everyday Canadians will pay the price,” the group said in its statement.