Friday, June 1, 2012

Bulk Freight and General Cargo Begins to Move After Rail Strike

CP Rail and Teamsters Have 90 Days to Resolve Situation
Shipping News Feature

CANADA –As rail workers return to work today both sides in the CP Rail dispute seem to be ready to make a deal during the ninety days allowable under the terms of the emergency bill passed by Parliament yesterday. Cargo has been piling up since the start of the strike nine days ago when almost 5,000 workers walked out paralysing freight traffic and leaving bulk tankers lying empty at the grain terminals.

Under the terms of the legislation both sides have 90 days to reach an amicable solution and if this fails then both sides will be faced with accepting an independent arbitration deal. Initial signs are that negotiations will proceed apace as, with the board changes we reported previously, all parties are already making the right noises. Previous talks failed when an impasse regarding fatigue breaks and pension cuts was reached but yesterday a Teamsters representative reportedly told the Senate:

"I firmly believe if that elephant hadn't been in the room — the previous back-to-work laws — we wouldn't be here. I really believe we would have had a deal. This is a fair bill which gives us an option or a chance to perhaps get a good deal.”

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt who introduced the Bill received some flak from other parliamentarians as the Canadian administration has already passed similar legislation in the case of other major national carriers like Canada Post and Air Canada which critics pointed out leave both sides in major labour disputes liable to intransigence in the expectation that the Government will take a similar course.

The pension issue reflects a situation we now see globally as CP say they have invested CAD$ 1.9 billion in the past three years to cover pension deficits with more to come. Peter Edwards Human Resources VP at Canadian Pacific pointed out that a retired engineer could earn up to CAD$ 93,000, 50% more that an equivalent Canadian National employee. The Teamsters representative responded that the only employees who ever earned the top figure were retired managers and executive pensions were not affected by the negotiations.

Despite the fact that normal freight services should be back on schedule by Sunday it is estimated that it will be some weeks before the backlog of cargo is cleared in a dispute that it has been estimated cost as much as CAD$ 15 million in daily revenue.

Photo: Ships moored up as the strike left Canada’s bulk grain terminals empty of product.