MONTREAL – Five associations representing private businesses in Quebec joined together on Monday to demand intervention by the federal government to force the resumption of activities in the Port of Montreal, paralyzed by a general strike by longshoremen.
The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM), the Quebec Employers Council (CPQ), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), the Federation of Quebec Chambers of Commerce (FCCQ) and Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec (MEQ) held a joint press conference on Monday afternoon to sound the alarm on a critical economic situation.
These five associations signed a joint declaration asking the Federal Minister of Labor, Filomena Tassi, “to take the necessary means to facilitate the resolution of the conflict” as soon as possible. At a press conference, the president and CEO of the CCMM, Michel Leblanc, clarified that a request has already been made to Ottawa for the appointment of a special mediator in direct contact with the minister.
“The demand has been heard,” he added of the reaction of Justin Trudeau’s government. According to him, it was out of “disbelief” in the face of the deterioration of the labor dispute that the politicians did not act sooner.
According to Minister Tassi’s press secretary, she must react to the employers’ public exit by publishing a statement.
The business groups say they leave it to the government to find a solution to the conflict, but they go so far as to mention the adoption of a special law if necessary.
Michel Leblanc bluntly described as “irresponsible” the choice of workers to avail themselves of their right to strike “in an extremely fragile (economic) recovery situation, linked to a pandemic”.
Employer representatives recall that the economic recovery is already fragile enough due to the COVID-19 pandemic and they fear a devastating effect on businesses if goods can no longer circulate freely. The Port of Montreal is the only place in Quebec that receives containers.
Quebec Inc. fears “a devastating impact” if the strike were to continue. It is emphasized that thousands of SMEs are struggling to survive the health crisis and remain at risk of having to close shop.
CFIB vice-president for Quebec, François Vincent, believes the strike could not have come at a worse time. He recalls that companies have already had to face a rail blockage, then several months of confinement.
Just before the press conference, the Association du camionnage du Québec (ACQ) added its voice to the common front by issuing a press release calling on Ottawa to “take immediate action”.
The ACQ warns that the strike could cause “important layoffs”. It also warns that the consequences could affect “the supply chain essential to health and safety activities”.
The Port of Montreal longshoremen’s union affiliated with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Maritime Employers Association (AEM) have failed to agree on a new employment contract. The previous version expired in December 2018. The employees therefore called an indefinite general strike at 7:00 am Monday morning in order to put pressure on the employers.
Discussions are reportedly underway to agree on a truce that would allow the port to reopen while negotiations continue.
According to data from the Montreal Port Authority, nearly 6,300 transport companies depend on the port and it is the source of 19,000 jobs.
Ugo Giguère, The Canadian Press