In the News
Government Passes Back-to-Work Legislation Against Montreal Dock Workers
Oppose the Criminalization of Workers’ Just Demands!
During the night of April 29, the House of Commons passed legislation to force the 1,160 dockers at the Port of Montreal back to work. For two and a half years since their collective agreement expired in December 2018, the dock workers have been trying to negotiate their working conditions with the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). They finally launched a general strike on Monday April 26 to block the MEA’s imposition of the unacceptable working conditions it has refused to negotiate.
To its undying shame, the Trudeau government which has never done anything to help the dockers who work as much as 19 out of 21 days, cried danger to Canada’s supply chain and passed back to work legislation. Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal, was passed under closure by a vote of 255-61. Three Liberals, as well as Bloc Québécois, NDP and Green MPs voted against it. The Senate is expected to ratify the bill on Friday.
The legislation imposes the resumption of activities at the port, extends the previous collective agreement until a new one is concluded, and imposes a mediator-arbitrator to decide on issues that are not resolved between the parties.
Despite the fact that Labour Minister Filomena Tassi knows full well that the dockers are continuing to unload goods required to fight the pandemic, she saw fit to outright slander the workers. The back-to-work legislation is a matter of life and death because the strike has left essential medical supplies and pharmaceuticals sitting in shipping containers as the COVID-19 pandemic rages, she self-servingly said.
Shame on Tassi, the Liberal government and all the Conservative MPs who voted with the government. The dock workers are demanding progress on job security and work schedules. Their demands are not frivolous, Ms. Tassi. They are on constant call, required to work up to 19 days in a 21 day period, assigned to day, evening and night shifts, without any relief in sight. They are subjected to an arbitrary discipline code which makes life further unlivable. Ms. Tassi and all members of cabinet and Conservative MPs should go work on the docks. Perhaps that will notch their anti-worker arrogance down a peg or two.
The back-to-work legislation will aggravate all the problems on the docks. Support the demands of the dock workers! Denounce the government legislation and anti-worker arrogance!
What Rob Ashton, President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada Had to Say
About the situation in Montreal: what the workers there are fighting for is a better work/life balance. Right now a longshore worker in Montreal is forced to work 17 to 19 days in a row without the right to take any time off. Imagine what this does to a family. Workers don’t see their families for days on end, and can’t go to medical appointments. If they don’t work they can be disciplined. What the employer is saying is that they have no right to complain because they are making good money. That’s fine and dandy but they want a life too. They’re fighting for what unions have fought for forever — eight hours of work, eight hours of play and eight hours of rest.
They started picketing on the weekends because the employers kept messing with their schedules and disciplining workers. If the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) had just agreed to negotiate last year none of this would have happened. They have to defend themselves and the only way to do that in contract talks is to withdraw their labour, which is a protected Charter right. Now the employer doesn’t have to do anything, can just sit back while the government steps in and imposes a contract. The first year they were in bargaining they were at the federal labour board, the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), because the employer was saying that they didn’t have a right to strike because they were essential to keeping everything going, and the Board ruled that they are not essential, the employer was wrong. That took a year. And there was no bargaining in that time so now we have this happening where the employer is still not bargaining, they’re actually stoking the flames by adjusting work rules which is forcing the union to react. Now the government for all intents and purposes are neutering the union with this legislation. There are very close ties between the Liberal government and the MEA.
The employer’s lawyer in that CIRB hearing was Nicola di Iorio, former Liberal MP for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel in Quebec from October 2015 to January 2019. He was working as an advisor to the MEA in 2018 when they were trying to deny the workers’ right to strike.
The MEA is doing the same thing as some BC hotels, taking advantage of the pandemic situation to mistreat the workers. They are definitely taking advantage of the situation and so is the Canadian government. Right now the federal government is trying to bring in new security regulations. The government recently told us they are possibly looking to change the regulations that they have on security background checks that they put some of our workers through, the ones who work with cruise ships and certain jobs in container terminals. Now they want every worker that works in marine cargo handling facilities to have extensive background checks done and we are asking them why. There is no evidence that we’ve been made aware of that longshore workers are a security risk. They are treating us like criminals. At a recent meeting I asked the government “Are you doing this at this time because we allegedly can’t hit the streets because of the pandemic? Are you trying to steal our voice from us? You haven’t done this in the last 20 years and you picked this year to do it? It’s awfully convenient that we can’t hit the streets and shut down cities or fly across the country to talk to MPs.” They just shrugged their shoulders.
This is another battle we have to fight.
(Photos: CUPE Local 375, R. Woods)