Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to recognize that today is the National Day of Mourning. Thirty years ago, the Parliament of Canada passed the Workers Mourning Day Act, making April 28 an official day of mourning in Canada. Since that day, every year we pause to pay our respects to and remember all workers who have lost their lives, been injured or suffered an illness on the job because of a work-related tragedy. We honour them and acknowledge the grief felt by the family and friends who miss them.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians and workplaces have developed a greater awareness of the importance of workplace safety, so today we also reflect on and mourn the tragic loss of workers because of COVID-19. That is why today we renew our commitment to improving health and safety measures in workplaces to prevent injuries, illness and death. The health and safety of all workers across this country is not only our responsibility, but our priority, which brings me to the subject of today's legislation.
The Government of Canada is strongly committed to free and collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of labour disputes as the basis for sound industrial relations. We firmly believe that negotiated agreements are the best solution. That is why during the collective bargaining negotiations between the Syndicat des débardeurs, also known as CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association, we have been providing extensive and ongoing support, encouraging the parties to reach an agreement that works for everyone. This commitment of nearly two and a half years to the negotiation process is evidence of our belief that the best deals are made at the negotiating table. Over the last two and a half years, the federal government has provided mediators who have supported over 100 bargaining sessions.
A lot has been said over the last couple of days about taking sides. I can assure colleagues that our government is not taking sides. I grew up in a community forged by the steel industry and the labour movement. I know and treasure the values of decency, fairness, inclusion and progress that the labour movement represents. I feel great empathy for all workers affected by the inability of the two parties to come to an agreement after two and a half years and over 100 sessions with federal mediators. That is why I so very strongly encourage the parties to come to a negotiated agreement as soon as possible.
I will begin by outlining some of the key milestones over the last two and a half years.
Collective bargaining between CUPE 375 and the MEA began in September 2018, with the existing collective bargaining agreement expiring on December 31, 2018. To reiterate some of my earlier remarks made in the House, the agreement covers approximately 1,100 workers employed by member companies of the MEA engaged in loading and unloading of vessels and other related work at the Port of Montreal.
On October 11, 2018, the Government of Canada appointed a conciliation officer from the federal mediation and conciliation service to assist the parties. Once the conciliation period expired on December 11, 2018, we appointed two mediators to continue the work with the parties, with a view to assisting them to resolve their differences and reach an agreement.
On October 23, 2018, the MEA filed an application with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, the CIRB, to determine which activities would need to be maintained in the event of a work stoppage at the port in order to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. In June 2020, the CIRB ultimately found that the parties did not need to maintain any activities in the event of a work stoppage beyond their statutory obligation under the Canada Labour Code to continue servicing grain vessels. However, the CIRB did acknowledge the union's commitment to continue servicing two vessels that supply Newfoundland and Labrador.
Less than a month after the CIRB decision was released, with the support of 99% of the membership, the union commenced a partial strike on July 2, 2020. Four work stoppages followed throughout the summer, each one with an increasing duration and impact. This ended in an unlimited strike that started on August 10, 2020.
There was also an increase in tension around the port. On August 13, 2020, eight people were arrested and charged with intimidation, mischief and assault, following a confrontation between union members and managers who were brought in as replacement workers. Eleven days later, on August 21, 2020, the parties agreed to a seven-month truce period during which they would keep bargaining and resume all port activity. That truce ended on March 21, 2021. Throughout this truce and since it ended, the parties have continued to receive intense mediation support from the federal mediators.
On February 4, 2021, I appointed two additional senior level federal mediators to assist with the negotiations. I also wrote to both parties, urging them to work with the mediators to reach an agreement as soon as possible. However, despite these ongoing mediation efforts, at the start of February, the MEA filed a bad faith bargaining complaint with the CIRB asking it to order the parties to binding arbitration. The CIRB issued a ruling on March 17, finding that any determination of bad faith bargaining would be premature and that parties are still working to negotiate a new collective agreement. Mediation therefore continued and the parties met a number of times.
On April 10, 2021, the employer gave 72 hours' notice of its intention to modify the conditions of employment for the members of CUPE 375. According to the notice, employees would no longer be guaranteed a minimum weekly income and would instead be remunerated only for hours worked. Later, on April 10, 2021, the union gave 72 hours' notice of its intention to no longer perform overtime work and work on weekends or participate in training. The union committed to maintaining services for vessels coming to and from Newfoundland and Labrador, and services for grain vessels that must be maintained in accordance with the Canada Labour Code.
On April 13, the parties implemented the actions described in their respective notices, and recently the situation has escalated.
On April 22, 2021, the employer advised the union that it would be invoking the provisions of the collective agreement that impose a specific shift schedule requiring workers to work an entire shift. The following day the union gave notice of its intention to stop all work at the port beginning at 7 a.m. on April 26, and on Monday morning that is exactly what happened: A complete general strike, unlimited in duration, began at the Port of Montreal.
The parties have reached an impasse, and it is clear that despite ongoing and extensive assistance from federal mediators that has lasted two and a half years, they remain unable to find common ground. We urgently need to find a path forward.
The Port of Montreal is the second-largest container port in Canada. Every year it handles over 1.6 million 20-foot equivalent units and 35 million tonnes of cargo, representing approximately $40 billion in goods. The work stoppage at the port is causing significant harm to Canada's economy, further disrupting supply chains that have already struggled through the COVID-19 crisis. Every day that it continues, the more likely it is that some of the business will simply not return, resulting in long-lasting damage. These disruptions to supply chains are not only affecting businesses; they are affecting the livelihoods of workers who are employed by those businesses. The jobs of hundreds of thousands of workers depend on the goods coming through the Port of Montreal every day.
With Canada's large volume of overseas trade, the smooth operation of our major ports is critical to our economy. The Port of Montreal is one of our main access points to international markets, and a prolonged shutdown of this gateway for containerized goods and bulk exports is detrimental to Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner. If trade declines, then jobs disappear, and this affects hundreds of thousands of workers across Canada.
These are the factors that are leading the government to take action with legislation that will require the parties to resume operations at the port while providing a neutral mediation arbitration process to resolve the differences between the parties. I want to emphasize that nothing in the legislation prevents the parties from coming to an agreement before the legislation receives royal assent or at any time in the mediation arbitration process.
Our government does not take back-to-work legislation lightly. We believe it should only be used as a last resort. Unfortunately, given the overall context, we believe it is the only remaining course of action.
This work stoppage is impacting more than 19,000 direct and indirect jobs associated with transit through the Port of Montreal, including in the rail and trucking industries. Facing high initial costs, shippers forced to reroute to other ports may not return immediately, or even in the long term, meaning that the negative impacts could last long after the work stoppage has ended.
The partial work stoppage had reduced port capacity by approximately 30%, representing a loss of cargo volumes worth an estimated $90 million per week. With no slack in the Canadian supply chain for adjustment, the economic disruption is extensive and can only be expected to worsen. This means the temporary and possibly permanent loss of jobs for thousands of workers whose families depend on them and their salaries. The longer the work stoppage continues, the longer it will take to recover.
As previously mentioned, the Port of Montreal is a major link in the Canadian and U.S. supply chain of raw materials and consumer goods. The August 2020 strike had a disruptive and protracted effect on the east coast transportation system. Further, we heard that some shippers, such as Ikea, had already diverted traffic to U.S. ports on the east coast earlier this spring.
The port authority further noted that other clients had done the same ahead of the March 21 end of the truce between the parties. Ultimately, there is a risk that these diversions could be permanent, if shippers find more stable and economical routes.
Permanent diversions to the U.S. ports could have long-lasting negative effects on the integrated transportation system around the Port of Montreal. This would translate to lower demand for rail and trucking services in Canada that support the movement of cargo between Canada and the U.S.
This would have a serious impact on employment in these industries. Thousands of workers across the supply chain could lose their jobs. We know that these challenges increase as the stoppage continues. Sectors of the economy dependent on cargo moving through the port may find it increasingly difficult to access key production inputs such as machinery, equipment and construction materials, which would force industries such as manufacturing, construction and sales to reduce and/or shut down operations. Shutting down manufacturing operations means workers' jobs and livelihoods are lost, perhaps permanently.
We also know that the disruption comes at a critical time in the agricultural sector. With the spring dictating much of the year's harvest, from imports of key inputs such as seeds, greenhouse components and fertilizer for the season, to the need for cash flow from exports that are now stalled, this is a serious concern for farmers and associated industries. Again, this would mean the loss of thousands of seasonal workers' jobs, and of course the consequences of this would be a threat to the health and well-being of Canadians.
We are hearing that small and medium enterprises are feeling the impacts of this work stoppage, and their concerns are particularly heightened given the already precarious economic recovery from COVID-19. Losses stem from not meeting delivery deadlines, lost potential sales and wasted product in the case of perishable goods that are not properly stored or handled as their movement is inevitably slowed, if not prevented altogether.
Canadian exporters are also facing increasing losses and delays in getting their exports to market and from the use of less-efficient transit options. As the work stoppage continues, the impacts on the manufacturing and natural resource sectors, such as forestry, are also likely to be significant. The ripple effect will not end there. As I mentioned earlier, challenges accessing key production inputs have the potential to cause temporary layoffs and job losses in industries such as construction and sales.
The economic numbers I am citing are not abstract: They represent the jobs of thousands upon thousands of Canadian workers who depend on the port. Workers may never get their jobs back. Stakeholders have also expressed concerns about the impacts. Medical suppliers have described this in letters as a life-and-death situation if products do not get to hospitals and patients.
Canadians need farmers to put food on tables to feed their families. In Ontario and Quebec, ministers of labour and economic development have written to me saying that this will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, and they have urged us to take action. We cannot afford not to act.
Ensuring the uninterrupted flow of commodities and goods to and from international and domestic markets through the Port of Montreal is essential to the economic well-being of Canadians across the country, particularly now as we enter into a period of economic recovery from a serious health and economic crisis.
The government has provided significant assistance to the parties. Despite our efforts, with over two and a half years of support from federal mediators and over 100 mediated sessions between the parties, there is no agreement in sight as the parties remain unable to find common ground. While the government firmly believes that the best deals are reached at the bargaining table, back-to-work legislation is sometimes necessary when the parties are at a significant and long-standing impasse and a work stoppage is causing significant economic harm.
We must act before irreparable damage is done to our economy and thousands upon thousands of jobs are lost, which will mean that thousands and thousands of families are affected. The government understands the serious negative effects of this work stoppage at the Port of Montreal, and the need for a resolution as quickly as possible. This is why we are taking action with legislation to ensure safe resumption of operations at the port and to provide the parties with a neutral mediation-arbitration process to resolve their disputes.
This legislation would order an immediate end to the work stoppage, and the resumption and continuation of all operations at the Port of Montreal following royal assent. The most recent collective agreement would be extended until a new collective agreement could be established. A mediation-arbitration process would begin in which the parties would jointly choose a mediator-arbitrator. If no agreement could be reached, I would appoint one.
The mediation would last for 14 days with the right of the parties, by agreement, to extend this another seven days for a total of 21 days in which all outstanding issues could be decided through the mediation process. If that fails, then it is on to arbitration. The new collective agreement that would result from this process would contain unmodified provisions from the expired agreement, all arbitration decisions and all agreements reached between the parties at any point in the current round of collective bargaining.
I want to be very clear. There is nothing in this legislation that prevents the parties from reaching an agreement on any issue or agreeing to a new collective agreement before the mediator-arbitrator's final decision is rendered. I strongly encourage the parties to reach an agreement before we pass this legislation, but we cannot afford to wait. We must act now.
Our government does not take this decision lightly, and I have repeated this many times. We take this decision with a heavy heart. This work stoppage is causing serious harm. It jeopardizes the jobs of over 19,000 Canadians directly and hundreds of thousands of Canadians indirectly. This is at a time when industries are still struggling to recover from the major economic disruptions over the past year.
We believe in the collective bargaining process. In this case, the government has provided assistance in the process for over two and a half years, and I want to take this opportunity to thank the mediators we have at that table who have worked tirelessly and were available 24-7 to work with the parties to come to an agreement. However, with no agreement in sight after over 100 federally mediated bargaining sessions, we must act.
I urge everyone here to support this legislation so that it passes as quickly as possible to ensure full resumption of activities at the Port of Montreal and prevent further economic harm. Canadians and Canadian workers are counting on us.