Labour board to review safety concerns of potential rail strike

The federal government is asking a labour tribunal to review whether a strike by rail workers would jeopardize Canadians’ health and safety.

Prompted by concerns from industry groups, the request to the Canada Industrial Relations Board from Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan may push back a potential work stoppage that could otherwise start less than two weeks from now.

The tribunal is set to examine agreements between workers and management abut what critical work must continue in the event of a strike or lockout, with any stoppage on pause until a decision on that issue is made.

Last week, employees at the country’s two main railways authorized a strike mandate that could see some 9,300 workers walk off the job as soon as May 22 if they are unable to reach new deals on contract demands.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents conductors, engineers and yard workers at Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Kansas City Ltd., has warned that a strike at both companies simultaneously would disrupt supply chains on an unprecedented scale.

Industry groups have sounded similar alarm bells, with the Freight Management Association of Canada saying a stoppage would see shipment of critical commodities like chlorine for water and gasoline for cities grind to a halt, jeopardizing residents’ safety.