Feds order rail workers back to work by Thursday

The Canadian government did what it said it would do Monday, ordering close to 5,000 striking CP Rail employees back to their jobs.

The Vancouver Sun reports the federal government fast-tracked the back to work legislation Monday in the House of Commons in an effort to end a work stoppage by 4,800 locomotive engineers, conductors and traffic controllers. Employees downed tools last Wednesday after the union and CP management failed to reach agreement over pensions and work rules.

The Sun reports on a statement by Labour Minister Lisa Raitt:

“It is very clear that the Government of Canada must act now to resume rail service at CP Rail, as the prospect of ratified agreements in the short term is highly unlikely,” Raitt told the House of Commons earlier in the day. “Simply put … the strike can’t go on. We need to get the trains running again.”

This is the third time in the past year that Stephen Harper's Conservatives have intervened in labour disputes involving crucial public or commercial services; the feds stepped in to legislate postal workers back to work last summer, and then earlier this year in a dispute involving Air Canada pilots.

The federal government estimates the strike by Canada's second largest (of two) railways is costing the economy $540 million a week.

The strike is hampering the movement of goods across Canada including mined commodities coal and potash.

The strike has already bitten into Canada's supply chain, with 40% of the country's rail traffic moved by CP. Companies being hit hardest are those with no transportation alternatives, such as BC-based Teck Resources, which ships all of its metallurgical coal from its five mines in southeastern BC to the port of Vancouver via CP Rail.

"Thousands of tonnes" of potash are sitting idle in Saskatchewan and grain elevators are filling up with wheat while half a dozen cargo ships in the Port of Vancouver are at anchor waiting for the cargo to move, CBC said earlier today.