Trudeau steps in to halt dock strike in Vancouver

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Thousands of dockworkers on Canada's west coast will be ordered back on the job as Canadian authorities move to end a labor dispute hampering the country's crucial grain exports.

The government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said Nov. 2 it was bringing in legislation to ensure that 3,500 longshoremen go back to work on the country's busiest port at Vancouver and other docks in British Columbia province.

Mr. Trudeau's government has been under fire for allowing the docks to be tied up since Oct. 19, when long-stalled contract negotiations boiled over into a lock-out by 64 stevedoring companies.

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The tie-up is hindering shipments of wheat, barley, oats, and other grains that constitute the country's most important primary export product. Last year, shipments of 27.2 million metric tons of grain were worth about $5 billion (Cnd) , or 8 percent of all Canada's exports.

Farmers claim the dock strike, which has left 6,000 rail cars backed up in Canada's western prairies while ships sit idle in Vancouver Harbor, is costing the economy $8 million a day in lost grain sales.

Thousands of railway and other workers have also been laid off as a result of the lock-out. This damage is all the more worrisome when Canada's economy is in a severe slump, with real growth already expected to decline by as much as 4.4 percent this year.

And officials are concerned that the tie-up will hurt Canada's reputation among major grain customers such as the Soviet Union, China, and Japan.

''The sooner the better,'' a federal government official said of Mr. Trudeau's plans to pass a bill in Parliament requiring the port to reopen.

The official of the Canadian Wheat Board, which regulates the grain industry, said, ''This has got to hurt us. We're just getting some of our customers to count on us, and with this kind of thing, they're going to start looking to see what they can buy elsewhere.''

Canada is one of the world's major grain sellers, along with the United States, Australia, and Argentina, and this year Canadian farmers are competing with a record grain crop in the US.

Mr. Trudeau had given the two sides in the dispute - the British Columbia Maritime Employers' Association and the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union - until midnight Nov. 1 to reach a new contract. But talks between the union and employers broke off Sunday.

An aide to Mr. Trudeau said the Liberal government would place back-to-work legislation before Parliament Nov. 2, but it may take a few days for the bill to be passed.

The longshoremen had been without a contract since the start of the year. Negotiations were stuck on the issue of whether cargo containers would in the future be allowed to pass through B. C. ports without being unloaded in nearby warehouses. To exert pressure on employers, the dockworkers began a slowdown in September, which prompted the lock-out in mid-October.

Since then, Canadians have been wringing their hands as grain shipments stalled. Patrick Nowlan, a Conservative member of Parliament, accused Mr. Trudeau of reacting much too slowly to and end what he termed an ''economic disaster for the whole country.''

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