Dockworkers at Canada’s second-largest port began their second strike in less than a year on Monday, as business leaders urged the federal government to quickly end a walkout that they said could cost the economy as much as C$25 million ($20 million) a day.
The Canadian government said on Sunday it would intervene to end the strike at the Port of Montreal, amid fears it could act as a drag on the country’s tentative economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unionized workers, who have been in talks for a new contract since 2018, started a partial strike last week and warned they were prepared to walk off the job completely to protest changes to their work schedule.
Both sides said they were meeting on Monday with a federal mediator.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers had already refused to work weekends and nights after rejecting an offer in March from the Maritime Employers Association.
“A labour stoppage would not only prevent goods from passing through the port but would also create congestion at other ports, causing bottlenecks at key points of entry for Canadian businesses,” Perrin Beatty, chief executive of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
The Montreal Port Authority said it handles C$275 million worth of goods daily.
“This strike is going to have massive detrimental effects on the Canadian agricultural sector across the entire country, not just eastern Canada,” said Dwight Gerling, president of DG Global, a major shipper of soybeans through the port.
The dockworkers’ last strike in August 2020 lasted 19 days and had a ripple effect on supply chains across Canada. The chamber cited a study which estimates the economic effects of a 10-day shutdown of the port as between C$10 million to C$25 million per day.