October 19, 2023 | Circular No. 11586

Dear Member,

You will find below a summary of recent developments related to the labour situation in the St. Lawrence Seaway:

UNIFOR Strike Notification and Related Impacts

As noted in the message we sent to members yesterday evening, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) has been served with a 72 hour strike notification by UNIFOR, advising that the union intends to begin strike action as of 00:01 on Sunday, October 22.  As a result of the above, the SLSMC has started implementing its detailed plans for a safe and orderly shutdown of navigation within the 72 hour notice period.  Additional details, including cut-off times for ships to clear the system, can be found in this NOTICE. We have also attached notices from the GLPA and the LPA in response to UNIFOR’s strike notice.

The Seaway has confirmed that should the union proceed with strike action, the Seaway will be closed to all traffic as of 00:01 on October 22nd.  It worth noting that despite these developments, negotiations between the SLSMC and UNIFOR are continuing with the assistance of a federally-appointed mediator.

SFC Advocacy

We sent an urgent LETTER to the Ministers of Transport and Labour earlier today highlighting the potentially disastrous impacts of a work stoppage in the Seaway at this time, and urging the government to do everything in its power to ensure a negotiated settlement is reached as quickly as possible.  We also urged the government to take the necessary steps to ensure that section 87.7(1) of the Canada Labour Code, which provides for the continued operation of grain vessels in the event of a labour disruption, can be immediately implemented should a strike occur, as this would at least ensure the ongoing movement of this critical commodity.

We encourage members whose operations are being affected by the impending strike to send their own letters to the Minister highlighting the specific business  impacts they are seeing and / or anticipating, as it is our experience that this type of granular information can be very effective in supplementing our more broadly-based advocacy efforts.  Please feel free to reference our letter in your individual communications and / or to use our letter as a template for your own messages (and please copy us on your messages, if possible).

We have also been in direct touch with the Minister of Transport’s office on this issue, and will follow-up with additional representations as the situation evolves.  In addition, we have reached out to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to apprise them of the issue and seek their intervention from an advocacy perspective (which has also proven to be quite useful in previous labour disruptions).

Federal Labour and Port Strike Review

In a potentially related development, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan today announced the start of a review process to study the issues underlying this summer’s longshore strike on the west coast, as well as other port disputes that have occurred in recent years.  Proposed terms of reference for the review will be developed between now and the end of the year, with the review itself getting underway in early 2024.  Although this will likely not have a bearing on the current Seaway situation, it is nevertheless an encouraging development that may help bring more stability to Canada’s trade gateways in the future.  We will provide members with more information on this review, including possible opportunities for stakeholder engagement, as additional details become available.


Karen Kancens
Vice President