St. Lawrence strike could hit grain prices: CWB

Grain prices could be pressured if a strike by unionized workers on the St. Lawrence Seaway comes to pass, the Canadian Wheat Board warns.

The CWB and “other key stakeholders” in the Prairie grain industry are urging the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. and operations, maintenance and clerical staff, represented by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), to “quickly reach a negotiated settlement,” the CWB said in a release Tuesday.

The workers’ strike vote last month calls for a deadline of Friday (Oct. 10) for progress in contract talks, after which the workers may strike on 72 hours’ notice.

In the event that talks break down, the CWB has also urged federal Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn to take “immediate action” that would enforce legal provisions designed to keep grain exports moving.

“Because of its economic importance, grain shipping has been deemed an essential service that must legally continue despite work stoppages,” CWB CEO Ian White said in the board’s release.

The possibility of a strike comes when harvest of the Prairie crop is virtually complete, the CWB said, with estimates pointing at one of the largest crops in 10 years, making October, November and December critical grain shipping months.

“Without the seaway, it will be impossible to move a significant portion of the crop to market as there is not sufficient capacity in other export corridors to take up the slack,” the CWB said. The seaway handles over six million tonnes of Prairie grains and oilseeds per year.

“Costs to farmers and shippers would be high in terms of contract execution costs, vessel demurrage, logistics and potential lost sales,” White said.

“Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier of grain would be damaged and prices could be pressured downward due to an artificial glut of domestic supply caused by inability to access the seaway.”

The CWB, in its release, cites section 87.7 (1) of the Canada Labour Code, which it said “clearly provides for the normal movement of grain vessels through the seaway in the event of labour disruptions.”

The CWB said it has asked for confirmation from seaway management and the CAW that they will “respect these legal provisions” and has asked Blackburn to “help ensure there will be no grain shipping delays.”

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