Canada pushes for end to Montreal port dispute

Wed Jul 21, 2010 6:38pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's labor minister asked a federal tribunal on Wednesday to wade into the labor dispute at the Port of Montreal, amid growing concern about the shutdown's impact on the economy.

Lisa Raitt said the dispute needs to be settled by negotiation, but she has also referred the issue to the Industrial Relations Board, which has the authority to require some essential service work be restarted.

"The government's priority is to protect Canadians. I have asked the board to examine the issue of maintenance of activities at the Port of Montreal," Raitt said in a press release.

Raitt said she acted because of health and safety concerns raised because some supplies were being blocked from reaching parts of Eastern Canada. Her statement did not identify what goods she was concerned about.

Montreal's Maritime Employers Association locked out the port's more than 800 longshoremen on Monday to counter what it said were unfair union pressure tactics that were slowing freight shipments.

Representatives of the two sides are scheduled to meet Thursday and Friday with government-appointed mediators, but they have been unable to reach a new agreement since the old contract expired at the end of 2008.

Government officials have sounded the alarm about the impact of prolonged shutdown at Canada's second largest port after Vancouver.

"Obviously, we're tremendously concerned about the impact not just on the Montreal area but indeed southern Ontario and southern Quebec, the manufacturing sector, the auto sector, which is still in a fragile state of recovery," Transport Minister John Baird said in Vancouver.   Continued...

<p>Security looks on at the Port of Montreal after about 850 longshoremen were locked out Monday morning by the Maritime Employers Association, closing Canada's second largest port in Montreal, July 19, 2010. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi</p>