Shipments halted as St. Lawrence Seaway workers go on strike

Unifor members at the St. Lawrence Seaway begin strike action (CNW Group/Unifor)

Shipments on the St. Lawrence Seaway have come to a halt as several hundred seaway workers have gone on strike as of Saturday night.

Members of five local chapters of the Unifor union — approximately 360 workers — in Ontario and Quebec are on the picket line after failed negotiations with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC).

Unifor said the employer and the union “remain 1,000 nautical miles apart on wages” as of Saturday.

Agricultural products, including wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, oats, and flax, account for about 40 percent of all Seaway trade, according to SLSMC. The Seaway is also a crucial corridor for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash fertilizer, with the fall period serving as a critical time for imports to supply Eastern Canada in spring.

The Canada Labour Code states that grain shipments through licensed terminals must continue during a work stoppage, but there are anecdotal reports of grain being stranded by the strike. As of Sunday, the SLSMC said it was waiting for a ruling from the Canada Industrial Relations Board to ensure grain continues to move through the Seaway.

“The stakes are high, and we are fully dedicated to finding a resolution that serves the interests of the Corporation and its employees. We remain committed to continuing discussions and reaching a fair labour agreement,” said SLSMC president and CEO Terence Bowles, in a statement on Sunday. “In these economically and geopolitically critical times, it is important that the Seaway remains a reliable transportation route for the efficient movement of essential cargoes between North America and the remainder of the world.”

Fertilizer Canada is calling on both parties to come to an agreement to end the strike.

“The fertilizer industry depends on reliable supply chains to get our products to farmers,” said Karen Proud, Fertilizer Canada’s president and CEO. “Any disruption to the supply chain, even for a day or two, impedes our industry’s ability to deliver products in a timely manner.”

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce says the federal government should immediately intervene to prevent further disruption to supply chains, resulting in higher costs and inflation for Canadians. The chamber says the Seaway generates an estimated average of $34 million in economic activity per day.

The SLSMC said on Sunday that there were no vessels waiting to exit the Seaway after an orderly shutdown during the 72-hour strike notice period. However, more than 100 vessels outside the system are affected by the labour disruption.

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