January 17, 2024 | Circular No. 11621

Dear Member,

Following the trend that was established in 2023, labour issues will  likely remain a major item on the Federation’s agenda in 2024.  Given the importance of this subject to the stability and continuity of member operations, we have provided below an update on the status of several ongoing contract negotiations in the port and rail sectors, as well as a summary of labour-related policy initiatives from the federal government.

Status of Labour Negotiations

BC Port Workers

Although the BCMEA and the ILWU concluded a new agreement with BC longshore workers following this July’s strike, this did not include approximately 730 ship and dock foremen represented by ILWU Local 514, whose contract expired last March.   Given the relatively slow pace at which negotiations with this group have been progressing, the BCMEA announced on January 10th that it had filed a notice of dispute under the Canada Labour Code for conciliation assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, noting that the parties have benefited from such third-party assistance in prior rounds of bargaining.  With the issuance of this notice, the Minister of Labour has until January 25 to appoint a conciliator as requested.

Montreal Port Workers

As previously reported, the contract between the Montreal Maritime Employers Association and approximately 1,000 longshore workers represented by CUPE (the Canadian Union of Public Employees) expired on December 31, 2023.  The parties, which are being supported in their negotiations by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, met on several occasions in December and also have meetings  planned for this month.

The MEA has filed a “maintenance of activities” application with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) requesting that longshore work at the Port of Montreal be designated as essential.  The CIRB has responded by asking for more information from the parties, which must be submitted by the end of January.  It is worth noting that neither party can engage in any pressure tactics (including a strike or lockout) until the CIRB’s decision on this issue has been rendered.

CN Rail Workers

The contract between CN and approximately 6,000 conductors, locomotive engineers and yard coordinators represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) expired at the end of 2023.  Negotiations between the parties commenced on November 27, and then broke for the holidays before resuming on January 10. According to the TCRC, the negotiation process has become more complex and time-consuming due to CN’s request that 14 of of the union’s collective agreements be merged together.

CPKC Rail Workers

The contract between CPKC and 3,200 railway yard employees, track maintenance workers and conductors / engineers represented by the TCRC also expired at the end of 2023.  The parties met for several days in December and have set aside the last week of January to continue negotiations, with additional negotiating dates to be scheduled  as necessary.

Recent and Upcoming Policy Initiatives

Bill C-58 – Replacement Worker Ban

As part of the federal government’s “supply and confidence” agreement with the NDP, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan recently introduced new legislation (Bill C-58) in Parliament regarding the use of temporary replacement workers during a strike or lockout in federally-regulated industries. Although the bill proposes a series of amendments to section 94 of the Canada Labour Code that explicitly prohibit the use of replacement workers during a work stoppage, it also contains a number of important exceptions, including the ongoing ability of employers to use management and contractors to fill certain positions during a labour disruption, subject to certain conditions.

The Bill is now at second reading in the House of Commons, after which it will be referred to a parliamentary committee for further debate. We will likely seek an opportunity to appear before the committee once it begins its hearings, with a view to underlining the importance of the above-noted provisions as a means of ensuring the continuity of supply chain operations (even if on a very limited basis) during a work stoppage.

Port Labour Review

Further to a commitment made immediately after this summer’s west coast longshore strike, the Labour Minister recently announced the launch of a review under section 106 of the Canada Labour Code to study the structural issues underlying recent labour disruptions at ports across Canada. The Minister has appointed two independent labour experts to lead the review, both of whom currently hold teaching positions at Queen’s University in Kingston. They have been tasked with identifying the key questions that need to be asked during the review process and drafting the review’s terms of reference by the end of the year, with the next steps to be announced early in 2024.

The Federation has sent the attached LETTER to both review leads to flag its interest in the review from an ocean carrier / international shipping perspective and request that we be included in the consultative process.  We will be following the review very closely and will keep members apprised of relevant developments.

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Members requiring further information on any of the above should contact the undersigned.

Sincerely,

Karen Kancens
Vice President