Canada's labour union: No progress made in talks with CN Rail

Strike by conductors and yard workers employed at country's biggest freight rail network threatens grain exports.

    Teamsters Canada union workers picket at the CN Rail Brampton Intermodal Terminal in Ontario after failing to resolve contract issues [Mark Blinch/Reuters]
    Teamsters Canada union workers picket at the CN Rail Brampton Intermodal Terminal in Ontario after failing to resolve contract issues [Mark Blinch/Reuters]

    A strike at Canada's largest railway company, Canadian National Railway Co (CN), is threatening to slow agricultural exports - with more than 30 vessels waiting at Canada's West Coast on Monday to load grain shipments that need to be shipped to overseas buyers.

    As the strike by some 3,200 unionised employees entered its seventh day on Monday, labour union Teamsters Canada said it had made no progress in reaching an agreement.

    Union spokesman Chris Monette told the Reuters news agency that his group was "no closer to reaching an agreement than when the strike began".

    Striking conductors and yard workers are demanding improved working conditions, including worker rest breaks - as the labour action has turned into Canada's biggest rail strike in a decade.

    There were 21 ships parked in the Port of Vancouver as of Friday and nine anchored at the Port of Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia said Mark Hemmes, president of Quorum Corporation, which monitors the movement of prairie grain for the Canadian government.

    Those figures, he added, were likely to rise later on Monday to a combined 35 vessels, which are used to transport the grains to international markets.

    'Unable to ship anything'

    Canada relies on its two major railways - CN and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) - to move products like crops, oil, potash, coal and other manufactured goods to ports and the United States.

    A CN spokesman said company officials continue to negotiate and call for binding arbitration, a demand the union has rejected thus far.

    A spokeswoman for Canadian Labor Minister Filomena Tassi declined comment.

    In a tweet on Saturday, Tassi said the federal government, which has so far sidestepped calls to intervene and force workers back to work by insisting collective bargaining is the fastest way to solve the dispute, was monitoring the situation closely.

    Talks between CN and union officials were ongoing but no deal had been reached, she said.

    The strike, Hemmes said, is affecting both shippers who are captive to CN rail lines and to exporters who rely on CP, because many of the grain handling facilities at the country's large ports are serviced only by CN.

    "Any Richardson facility or Cargill facility that is located on CP [lines] is basically unable to ship anything from the country to Vancouver," he explained, referring to major Canadian grain companies transporting products to the western port city.

    Richardson International and Cargill Inc could not immediately be reached.

    Economists say that a prolonged strike could hit already slowing growth, while costing the Canadian economy billions. About half of the country's exports move by rail, industry figures show.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency