How essential is dock work Answer could determine if longshoremen can strike

Montreal port employers and longshoremen are gearing up for a battle over the definition of “essential service” amid ongoing negotiations for a new collective agreement.The Maritime Employers Association asked the Canada Industrial Relations Board in October to review whether longshoremen carry out essential work in a bid to shield the docks from strike threats, with hearings kicking off this morning.A ruling establishing certain port services, such as the movement of prescription drugs, as “essential” would bar a full strike or lockout in the interest of public safety or security, according to federal labour legislation.Local union president Michel Murray argues that dock work is not essential to Canadians’ health and security, and that shippers can turn to other ports in the event of a strike.Employer spokesman Yves Comeau is raising the spectre of shortages in medicine, groceries, seeds and fertilizer as a risk to community health, on top of the economic impact.In December, the union voted 99.5 per cent in favour of a strike mandate, which can typically be exercised at any time during contract negotiations, now ongoing. But the employers association forestalled the move with its request to the industrial relations board two months earlier. No strikes or lockouts can take place until a decision comes down, both sides say.The Canadian Press read more