Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021

An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal

Sponsor

Filomena Tassi  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal and imposes mediation as the process for resolving matters remaining in dispute between the parties. It empowers the mediator-arbitrator to impose arbitration as the process for resolving matters that cannot be resolved through mediation. Finally, it sets out the elements that are to be included in the new collective agreement between the parties.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

April 29, 2021 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-29, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. She knows her portfolio inside and out, she is passionate, and I thank her for that.

I just heard a question from the member for Kingston and the Islands that is fundamental, because he was asking about the role of parliamentarians. I asked the Minister of Labour a question earlier, and she replied that it was a matter of life and death because medication and medical equipment would not be unloaded at the Port of Montreal.

That is not true. Immediately after her response, I called the president of the Syndicat des débardeurs, Michel Murray. He confirmed that the union had told the employer that the longshoremen would have no objection to unloading containers that the employer designated as essential for humanitarian purposes, thus maintaining the supply chain and allowing truckers to pick up those containers.

One of two things happened. Either the Minister of Labour is misinformed, or she is calling the president of the Syndicat des débardeurs a liar. Could my colleague comment on that?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right to raise this fundamental question.

We do indeed have emails confirming this. As I was saying yesterday, drugs are not floating on the water, and they will not be held up by the strike. The longshoremen have confirmed that they will unload anything medical or pandemic-related. It is not true that this is a matter of life and death, as I heard someone say yesterday.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, we heard several times this evening that clients of the port wanted this strike to end. Apparently, they are sending messages to the government, but I think that these messages should have been sent to port management, to inform them that they have paying clients who want service and the employer should find a solution with its employees.

These messages should not be sent to the government, but to port management. They need to sit down at the bargaining table and find a solution. It seems pretty obvious to me. I find it frustrating that the government thinks that it has a responsibility to find a solution here. It tried to do that for a few years. That did not work, and now it is telling us that the solution is to pass back-to-work legislation—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for speaking in French.

Was there any response when the workers were sounding the alarm? There was not. Everyone came out and said that a labour dispute made no sense. Well, that is how our labour laws work.

The pressure was in no way related to how this negotiation was managed. In fact, eight months ago, there was pressure on the government to get a solution negotiated.

What has the government been doing these past eight months?

That is what is shameful. I completely agree—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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Mount Royal Québec

Liberal

Anthony Housefather LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to work with the member for Thérèse-De Blainville, even though we do not agree on this matter.

We do agree that the Canada Labour Code needs to be modernized in many respects, including the matter of whether workers have the right to be paid if they are available for work, as is the case under the Quebec Labour Code.

I understand the member for Thérèse-De Blainville's principles very well. Can she imagine a situation in which the Bloc Québécois would vote in favour of special legislation, or would they oppose such legislation on principle, regardless of the circumstances?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, our positions are not ideological or dogmatic. That would be too easy. The answer would be no. The Bloc Québécois is all about finding solutions. We are not voting no just to be contrary, and we are not voting no for ideological reasons. We are voting no because this is not the right solution. What is happening is quite a harsh solution, because we, as parliamentarians, are denying workers their rights. There are other solutions.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:25 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain.

I would like to come back to an earlier exchange. The Minister of Labour was accused of misleading the House on the dockworkers' ability to deliver medical assistance, vaccines, drugs and personal protective equipment if needed. Obviously the dockworkers are able to do that.

Of course there may be several things in any one container, but generally the containers are identified and we know what they contain, in large or small quantities. If we absolutely need something in a container it can be delivered. It is not witchcraft. This is 2021, we are able to send a small helicopter to Mars. I am sure we can find the right container at the Port of Montreal.

I would also say to our Liberal colleagues that the possibility of bargaining on issues related to essential services is not new. Essential services have always been negotiated during labour disputes, at the Port of Montreal or any port, whether in Halifax, Vancouver or the United States. We are not reinventing the wheel here. This is negotiated between the parties. Maybe I should provide a bit of background for the situation we find ourselves in. This round of bargaining over essential services at the Port of Montreal is a bit odd.

I will note that today is April 28, International Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace. There are still hundreds of people every year who are victims of workplace injuries and illnesses. I must admit that it is rather sad that we have to have a debate on this day on a bill forcing people back to work that breaks the back of union members who were exercising a fundamental, constitutional right. I was going to say that it is ironic, but it is worse than that. It is absolutely disgraceful.

The minister and the Liberal government claim that they are not taking sides in this labour dispute, that they like everyone, and that they want the issue to be resolved. They claim that they introduced this back-to-work legislation to respond to other concerns about the supply chain, the economy, and so on. They say that is the reason they introduced this bill and that they are not upsetting the balance of power between the parties.

Normally, when someone tells a story, they start at the beginning, and then there is a development and an ending. This time, I will start at the end, because something happened today that, to me, is extremely telling. The Liberals threw their whole weight behind the Port of Montreal and the interests of the management side. They trampled the fundamental rights of working men and women who were acting in a way that was very respectful of the law.

Today, these workers must be so angry because they have been had by the Liberals. When they were in the opposition, the Liberals would tear their hair out the moment the Conservatives introduced back-to-work legislation. However, today, they are doing the exact same thing.

It is important to point out that pay is not really the issue, nor is the Port of Montreal losing millions of dollars. Its executives are not acting out of desperation because the port is on the verge of bankruptcy. The Port of Montreal is doing well.

As members know, the economy is struggling right now, particularly SMEs and the cultural and tourism industries. However, containers continue to arrive at the Port of Montreal, and business is good.

Workers had one main demand, and it had to do with work schedules. As my colleague from Thérèse-De Blainville said earlier, dock workers have a demanding job that requires an extremely high level of availability, which makes it very difficult to maintain any kind of work-life balance. Dock workers always need to be available and ready to work on call. They need to get to their job site as quickly as possible.

The union is asking the employer to put an end to the punitive measures in relation to the work schedules that were imposed. Obviously, that is the crux of the problem. Management put pressure on workers by being much stricter and imposing certain types of work schedules that went against the dock workers' legitimate requests.

The union asked the employer if, should the special legislation come into effect, it intended to immediately revert to the shift schedules that were in place before the Maritime Employers Association announced changes on April 22, rather than implement the new schedules until a new collective agreement takes effect.

The employer responded that it had taken note of the questions and would reply in due course depending on whether Bill C-29 passed and came into force. That is a typical example of an employer that has no interest whatsoever in negotiating or even answering questions. The employer made it clear that it would respond to the union once the bill was passed. This is not the first time we have seen this kind of thing.

This shows just how badly the government's actions have upset the balance of power between the parties. The mere threat of back-to-work legislation killed the Port of Montreal's interest in finding a solution and finding common ground with the other party. Now it is biding its time, waiting for the Liberals to do the work. Then it can force the workers to accept whatever it wants.

I also deplore the irregular work schedules that are being imposed at every turn. Workers cannot even take a day off to spend time with their families. I am not an expert on the subject, but as far as I can tell, it would be very unlikely for a 250-foot cargo ship to show up at your dock unannounced. From the moment it enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we have an idea of when it will arrive, so we can plan schedules accordingly. These container ships are massive. Unfortunately, it is much easier for the employer to maintain all the flexibility it needs to change the schedule as it pleases and shove it down the workers' throats.

The Minister of Labour and the government did not even wait for the general strike to begin before threatening special legislation, which they did the day before. Last Sunday, the Liberal minister said that if there was a strike the next day, there would be special legislation. There had not yet been a single minute of unlimited general strike. There was an overtime strike and a weekend strike. The union was using progressive and partial pressure tactics legally. It wanted to send a message to the employer that if the employer wanted to keep the freighters coming, the containers being unloaded and the supply chain working, they had to sit down at the bargaining table and work out a solution to the work schedules. It does not take a rocket scientist to find solutions. I was going to make a connection with the Prime Minister, but I will refrain.

The constitutional rights of these workers were undermined. Not long after, the employer left the bargaining table and negotiations came to an end. The employer only needs to wait for special legislation. It does not even want to reply to the union's emails and legitimate questions.

What are the Liberals doing in light of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on the Saskatchewan case? The court recognized that union members had the right to use job action and that our labour relations and collective bargaining system was based on both parties having appropriate opportunities, depending on the circumstances, to put pressure on one another to find a solution together.

The solutions are not always perfect, and neither is our labour relations system. We recognize that improvements to the Canada Labour Code are needed. Nevertheless, in general, the parties make concessions and find a compromise. This is how workers' movements can improve their working and living conditions, fight for social justice and create a fairer, more equitable and more balanced society. This has been true of many disputes and struggles throughout history.

If we take job action away from workers because it could have repercussions elsewhere, the right to strike becomes theoretical. Job action will obviously cause disruptions and have an impact on others. That is how the system works. If workers cannot use job action to force their employer to sit down at the table to negotiate a solution, then these workers are being denied their right to strike. This means that the Liberal government is violating a Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, listening to the last speech, we would think this was a brand new event: something that had just happened within the last few days, and the government suddenly jumped in with this draconian measure. The reality is that this has been going on for two and a half years. There has been so much back and forth. The government has been giving supports all along the way.

What I really wanted to touch on was the issue the member brought up at the beginning of his speech, when he said that CUPE said the workers would let products go through and would allow shipping containers to come up. When someone says that, they are massively oversimplifying the situation. They are assuming too many things when there are many variables going on at the same time.

For example, when something comes off a shipping container, we are relying on an entire train's worth of product being moved out at the same time to get the costs that we would get to ship that stuff across the country. Now all of a sudden we want to take one container and ship it by truck somewhere. It does not happen like that. The member is oversimplifying the situation when describing it like—

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:40 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, some people can complicate things endlessly when they do not wish to find a solution, or when they want to impose special legislation on workers who know perfectly well how to do their job and handle containers so our hospitals can get what they need.

I never said that this had just happened. It is true that the union had said that if schedules were restored, there would not be a full general strike. It is also true that the union was always ready to return to the negotiating table.

A few weeks ago, dockworkers went on strike. When the parliamentary secretary said that this had been going on for two years, that is mostly because the Port of Montreal had asked that 100% of longshore operations be considered an essential service, a process that took many months. That is what took a long time, not the negotiations.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Madam Speaker, in the speech he just gave, my colleague referred to a 2015 ruling on workers' right to strike for the purpose of negotiating their agreements, among other things.

We could add to that the recent attempts by the Maritime Employers Association to stop Port of Montreal workers from striking by turning to the Canada Industrial Relations Board and then the Federal Court of Appeal. Both dismissed the association's case.

We see that the workers' right to strike and to negotiate freely is recognized in law. The Canadian government is violating this right. In the past, this very government hid behind judges in attacks against Bill 101 and, more recently, Bill 21.

What does my colleague think of the government's double standard towards workers?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:40 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

It is a hallmark of governments, whether they are Liberal or Conservative.

When I arrived in the House almost 10 years ago, we debated special legislation to force Canada Post workers to go back to work. At the time, the Liberals were in opposition and they were outraged. Since coming to power, they have taken similar action many times, as we are seeing this evening with the Port of Montreal dockworkers and as we saw with Canada Post. That is unfortunate.

At some point, we will have to establish rules to ensure that these are not just theoretical rights.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:40 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

The amendment that the NDP proposed this evening removes the worst parts of the back-to-work bill. The arbitrator will not be able to stop the collective bargaining by demanding a final offer.

We tried to find a way to gain some time and extend negotiations a little. That is what we were able to do, under the circumstances. I am pleased that the NDP managed to at least do that.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:45 p.m.
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NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, as I listen to this debate, I continue to become more upset. Not only is the government stripping these workers of their charter right to strike, it issued notice of its intent, through this expedited legislation, to force workers at the Port of Montreal back to their jobs before they even began their strike. What is worse is that the government continues to fearmonger about COVID-19-related supplies with claims that continue to go unsubstantiated. I would like to address this with a quote from an article by FreightWaves published on August 20, 2020. It states:

The union representing longshore workers at the Port of Montreal agreed on Thursday to move some containers holding goods needed in the fight against COVID-19.

“The Maritime Employers Association and the longshoremen’s union have agreed to move containers that contain controlled substances and COVID-19-related merchandise and to unload a ship containing sugar,” the MEA announced early Thursday afternoon.

I hope this puts an end to the reprehensible nonsense. If there is any issue with important pandemic-related supplies not getting to where they need to go, that is certainly not on the union or the workers. Look to the government or the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

The legislation itself would do the following. It would force the employer and the union to extend their expired collective agreement, prevent the employer from locking out workers and prevent the union from striking.

I would like to provide some context to this bill before I give further remarks. In 2019-20, the Canada Industrial Relations Board heard the employer's application for a determination on essential services. The employer's counsel used every trick in the book to stall things at the CIRB, including a motion for the board chair to recuse herself, and forwarded judicial review applications. After the decision was issued, CUPE Local 375 went on strike for 12 days in August 2020. Workers went back to work after a truce agreement was signed, giving the parties seven months to conclude a deal. The union worked with the federal mediation service all this time. On April 16, the union reviewed its strike mandate with a 99.3% vote.

The union finally offered to end the overtime and weekend strike if the employees reverted to the working conditions applicable before April 9. On April 23, members of the union declared their mandate of an unlimited general strike as the employer did not show it wanted to negotiate in good faith. As we know, the minister then signalled before the general strike started that the government would be tabling legislation to force workers back to work, despite their charter right.

The minister should know, if she is speaking to both sides, that this strike can quickly come to an end without the need for legislation. The union has made it very clear that it would cease all forms of work disruption with one fair request to the employer to stop the pressure tactics and collective agreement violations.

I will read what a CUPE spokesperson had to say:

If the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) doesn’t want a strike, all it has to do is let up on its pressure tactics and the union will do likewise. No overtime strike. No weekend strike. It’s straightforward. We want to return to the bargaining table.... We don’t want to hurt the Montreal economy. However, we do want to exercise our fundamental right to bargain collectively.

The minister, in her speech on Government Business Motion No. 5, said the following:

Our government firmly believes that the best deals are reached at the bargaining table. However, intervention is sometimes necessary when the parties are at a significant and long-standing impasse, particularly when a work stoppage is causing significant harm to Canadians. We cannot allow the situation we saw in August 2020 to repeat itself, particularly in the midst of this pandemic. If the current stoppage continues, serious accumulated and negative impacts will continue to be felt all over Canada.

Again, the minister has not provided any concrete examples or data of the direct, significant benefit to Canadians. She continues to fearmonger without concrete facts. Instead of facts and data, all I am hearing is a bunch of quotes from lobbyists about what they speculate may happen. The only relevant fact that I have heard from the government about the actual effect of the work interruption was related to the August 2020 strike. This is relevant. What happened to those ships and the supplies they were carrying? They simply got diverted to other ports.

I have no doubt, and acknowledge, that this has made for significant changes and complications to supply chains and land transportation of goods, but this is part of what happens in a strike. Given the fact that she is the labour minister, I would expect the minister to be aware of this and instead monitor the situation. Her job is not to say that the sky is going to fall and then give notice that she will revoke the charter rights of workers to strike before their strike even begins.

Back-to-work legislation is known to have lasting, negative effects. When we take away the charter rights of hundreds of people by an act of Parliament and force them back to work like this, it really affects the morale of workers. I know. I have seen it. What it also tends to do is sour the relationship between the employer and the employees.

By way of example, let us look at the track record of back-to-work legislation and providing a swift resolution to drawn-out collective agreement talks. Bill C-89, an act to provide the resumption and continuation of postal services, was passed by this same Liberal government in the House of Commons on November 24, 2018. It received royal assent two days later and came into force at noon on the following day. Here is what representatives of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers had to say about being forced back to work to help resolve the situation a whole year after being back.

Though the legislators who passed the bill may have thought it would resolve the situation, nothing is fixed, no contract is in place, and we’re still working without a new collective agreement, without the right to strike, under the dangerous and unfair conditions that we were trying to deal with in negotiations.

They go on to speak very directly about the overarching problems being suffered due to the nature of back-to-work legislation.

Workers pay the price for back-to-work legislation. CUPW members worked two and a half years without new contracts, with the same old problems we were trying to solve through bargaining back in 2018.

After finally getting a contract, though imposed by an arbitrator some 400 days after the back-to-work legislation, significant issues are still not satisfactory. I suspect these will be part of the next round of bargaining next year. This type of legislation is a way of kicking the can down the road via a still drawn-out process all while taking away the employees' right to collective bargaining.

I think it is important for Canadians listening to know that it is not just Liberal governments that impose the harmful and unfair labour practice of back-to-work legislation. In fact, one could say that the Liberal government learned this tactic from the Harper Conservatives and is carrying on the torch of stripping workers of their charter right to strike. Let us have a look at back-to-work legislation by the Conservatives.

The Conservatives legislated the following groups back to work: the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the United Transportation Union.

Before I end, I do want to raise that the government has still not addressed my concern about a recent development. It is my understanding that there was a proposal put forward last evening to avoid the need for Bill C-29. While I am not privy to all the details of this proposal, I do know the employer, the union and the government were all made aware of the said proposal. This proposal would have involved a return to work, as well as the resumption of the flow of goods.

I am being told it was only the employer that objected to this proposal as a way forward. I think it would be a further injustice and shameful for the government to continue its pursuit of this motion and legislation, given the employer's unwillingness to play ball.

I call on the government to allow the workers to pursue their right to strike.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, on a number of occasions throughout this debate, I have asked my NDP colleagues whether they have a threshold at which they would accept and support legislation like this.

The response received was that it was hypothetical question and they do not want to be asked hypothetical questions. This could not be further from the truth. A hypothetical would be if I presented a scenario to somebody, and then asked them what they would do if this happened or if that happened. I am not asking that.

I am asking, very simply, if they support back-to-work legislation in principle? Would they ever support it?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021Government Orders

April 28th, 2021 / 10:55 p.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, it is important to note the facetiousness of the question from the member for Kingston and the Islands.

If we were talking about business here and about negotiations between businesses, and in fact, we hear this all the time, we would hear that the Canadian public cannot have access. We cannot have access to the contracts that dictate the vaccines for COVID-19 because that could affect commercial negotiations. God forbid we do anything that could harm the profits of large corporations. However, when it comes to workers, we can just jump in right away to trample all over their rights and affect their ability to negotiate fair conditions of work.

The Liberals are asking us at what point we would bring in the hammer. As soon there is an answer to that question, it gets built into the corporate plan. We have seen that. We are seeing that right now with the government, which has signalled a willingness to invoke back-to-work legislation, directly affecting the bargaining strategy of the companies.

It is the wrong question. I object to the question in principle because it does not recognize that there is a real negotiation here. I think it is so typical of the Liberals. They recognize negotiating principles when it is about protecting corporate profit, but when it is actually about protecting workers and their—