July 8, 2008 / 12:15 AM / 9 years ago

Viterra headquarters workers begin strike

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Workers at Viterra Inc’s headquarters went on strike on Monday to protest against the company’s decision to institute a contract offer that had been voted down by unionized employees.

Nearly 200 workers at the Regina, Saskatchewan, head office of Canada’s largest grain handler walked off the job, while more than 600 employees at grain elevators and other facilities across Saskatchewan took limited job action by refusing to work overtime or train replacement workers.

Viterra said its operations had not experienced problems because of the walkout.

“Things are going very well actually. We have not had any disruptions. The office is running very smoothly,” said Colleen Vancha, vice-president of investor relations.

Representatives of the Grain Service Union (GSU) were not immediately available for comment.

Viterra said last week it would require the Saskatchewan employees to work under the terms of a contract offer that would link future pay raises to the employees and the company meeting performance goals.

The company called its action a “rotating lockout” but said no employees would barred from their jobs and those who failed to report for duty would be disciplined.

Viterra says the agreement could increase workers wages 27 percent over the next five years and is similar to the wage system used by its other workers.

The union says it objects to the deal because it does not clarify how workers would qualify for pay increases and leaves the decision entirely in the hands of management.

The previous contract expired at the end of January.

Viterra says it is allowed under federal labor law to institute a contract offer during an impasse in negotiations, but the union is investigating to see if the company’s actions are legal.

Members of the GSU at Viterra’s grain elevators in Alberta and Manitoba voted last month to accept the offer, and the company says misinformation caused Saskatchewan employees to reject the plan.

Editing by Rob Wilson

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