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Looming strike could shut down Seaway transport: Report

OTTAWA -- The federal government is being asked to intervene in a brewing labor dispute that could see shipping through the St. Lawrence Seaway come to a halt.

The Financial Post reports that 445 unionized CAW workers for the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC) can issue a 72-hour strike notice as early as Oct. 10.

The Shipping Federation of Canada, which fears that freighters could get stranded if caught in the middle of a strike, has asked Ottawa try and settle the conflict.

The Seaway's President and CEO Richard Corfe told a maritime conference in Vancouver this week that a strike could cripple Canada's transportation industry and cut off freight to steel mills, mines, and western tar sands.

The workers and company are at odds over pay and operational issues. The CAW members have been without a contract since April.

Final negotiations are to begin next week. But
a strike is a real possibility.

According to the Post, the workers have employment guarantees, but fear that could eventually come to an end as the Seaway attempts to modernize systems by installing robots and other technology.

"Union representatives have clearly heard that clauses that impede reasonable flexibility in work rules must be changed in a future collective agreement if the Corporation is to achieve its mandate and be sustainable into the future," the SLSMC stated in a press release last month. "As new technology is implemented, current employees will have opportunities to train for higher skilled jobs and will retain their employment guarantee. Any reduction in employment will be achieved through attrition, as present employees retire."

Last-ditch negotiations are scheduled to begin Monday, with mediators on hand. But Corfe said that he thinks the threat of a strike is very real.

The Post reports that some steamship lines and shippers are already putting contingencies in place. For starters, some freighters are already being diverted to other waterways.

The system usually handles 30 vessels during the fall season. Yesterday, only about half that remained.


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