Canada’s biggest rail strike hits exports, sparks layoffs


    OTTAWA/MONTREAL- A strike at Canadian National Railway Co, the country’s largest railroad, entered a seventh day on Monday, sending further shocks through the economy with grain shipments scuttled and layoffs planned at fertilizer producers and an auto shipment terminal.

    As Canada’s biggest rail strike in a decade dragged on, industry has piled pressured on the government to intervene. Teamsters Canada, the union representing the 3,200 striking CN employees, said it was no closer to an agreement than when its members first hit picket lines.

    The Unifor labor union said 70 employees would be laid off effective Thursday at a Nova Scotia facility contracted by CN to handle vehicles shipped in and out of Canada.

    Meanwhile, frustrated farmers facing propane shortages dumped wet corn in front of the prime minister’s local Quebec office and pleaded for the government to step in.

    Striking conductors and yard workers are demanding improved working conditions, including worker rest breaks.

    The Teamsters released a recording of what it called an exchange between an exhausted conductor who wanted regulator Transport Canada to intervene before agreeing to a manager’s request to move a train after a 10 hour shift. The union said its contract requires rest after 10 hours of work.

    CN said Monday it is aware of the recording and is “looking into” the matter. Reuters could not verify the recording.

    Transport Canada, which requires railway workers to rest after a 12 hour shift, said it had not received a complaint regarding the case.

    Canada relies on CN and Canadian Pacific Railway to move products like crops, oil, potash, coal and other manufactured goods to ports and the United States. Industry figures show about half of Canada’s exports move by rail, and economists have estimated a prolonged strike could eat into economic growth.

    The federal government has sidestepped industry calls to force employees back to work, insisting collective bargaining is a quicker solution.

    CN said its officials continue to negotiate and called for binding arbitration, a demand the union has rejected thus far.

    The strike left at least 35 vessels waiting at Canada’s West Coast to load grain shipments, Mark Hemmes, president of Quorum Corp which monitors the movement of prairie grain for the Canadian government, told Reuters. Hemmes said many of the grain handling facilities at major ports on the West Coast are serviced only by CN.

    Shipments from those ports supply international markets, including Asia.

    An association of Canadian exporters has declared event of delay, allowing members to avoid contract penalties due to circumstances outside their control.

    Nutrien Ltd said it was preparing to shut down its largest potash mine, at Rocanville, Saskatchewan, for two weeks effective Dec. 2.

    The north shore of Port of Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet is home to a major potash and coal export terminal as well as grain terminals operated by Cargill and Richardson International that are normally serviced only by CN.

    A “trickle of cars” from CP was reaching the grain terminals, but they are “for all intents and purposes shut down,” said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association. – Reuters