The union representing dockworkers at the Port of Montreal says it has ended a longstanding hiring practice that was criticized for fostering nepotism — to the point where workers’ preschool children were included on an employee list potential.
For decades, the a*sociation of shipping companies that use the port hired longshore workers from a list provided by the union — a list created by asking each union member to provide a single name.
But the Maritime Employers’ Association claimed the list was a recipe for nepotism, resulting in few female applicants or members of ethnic minorities, but in some cases children barely out of nappies.
In April, a labor arbitrator ordered a series of changes after finding it was impossible for people to get their names on the list unless they were related to current dockworkers.
“It appeared that this list contained almost exclusively the names of the family members of each of the longshoremen, without any verification of the merit or the ability of these people to do the work of longshoremen,” wrote Nathalie Faucher in her decision. . She found the list amounted to employment discrimination based on family status, which is prohibited under federal human rights law.
In another decision on the subject last year, Faucher highlighted the employer’s a*sertion that “certain candidates on the union’s master list are currently children under the age of three.”
Since 2015, 50 percent of longshore workers have been hired from the union list – previously, all hires were drawn from the list.
Faucher found that although the process has been the subject of criticism since the early 1980s, previous attempts to change the system have resulted in lengthy conflicts. “Strong measures must be taken to break this cycle of systemic discrimination,” she wrote.
The union affiliated with the Canadian Union of Public Employees had argued that no questions had been asked about the relationship between the person added to the list and the member who proposed it, and that it was therefore not aware of the existence of family ties. However, Faucher found that these connections were often self-evident.
The union also claimed that the a*sociation’s challenge to the list was an attempt to short-circuit upcoming contract negotiations.
Spokesman Michel Murray said the union fully respects the arbitrator’s April ruling, which ordered it to take more than a dozen steps to allow anyone who qualifies to put their name on the list. The arbitrator also appointed an independent monitor to ensure that his orders were followed.
Murray said the list goes back decades “when shipping companies asked active longshoremen to bring family members into the workforce when the Port of Montreal was busy.”
As each worker could only put one name on the list, “it was not uncommon for minors to be listed, given that it could take several years before the employer put out a call for applications,” he said. -he wrote Tuesday in an email.
The Maritime Employers’ Association said it was not questioning the union’s prerogative to choose workers, but that the process must comply with human rights laws and the collective agreement.
“We are obviously satisfied with the arbitral decision in the nepotism case. Inclusion, equality and accessibility for all are important values for the MEA,” declared Isabelle Pelletier, vice-president of communications and public affairs of the a*sociation.
John Corey, president of the Canadian Cargo Management Association, said that like other publicly traded companies, large shipping companies must report diversity and governance in their financial statements.
“They have an obligation to report on these issues to their shareholders, so it’s much more difficult for a company to say: we’re just going to hire friends and relatives. Times have changed,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
Pier-Luc Bilodeau, a professor of industrial relations at Laval University, said systems through which employers hire candidates selected by unions existed in other North American ports, as well as for machinists and in the construction industry, even though this practice has been banned in Quebec. construction sector.
“As a group we want to make sure that the generation after us, our children, can have the opportunity to have good jobs – that is the logic behind the union’s approach,” he said. he said Wednesday in an interview.
While the presence of young children on the list may seem shocking, it follows the same logic: union members don’t know when more workers will be needed and want to ensure that their children will be at the top of the list when they are able. to provide. jobs at the port.
Jean-Claude Bernatchez, professor of labor relations at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, said the organization of work at the port of Montreal will likely be one of the central issues as the union begins negotiations on Thursday with the MEA.
“The unions want to maintain the number of jobs they have in Montreal. There are about 1,400 longshoremen and they want to keep their wages, they want to keep their methods, so they are resistant to change,” he said. “As for the employer, they want to reduce their costs, they want to introduce technology as much as possible to make things more efficient. »
© 2023 The Canadian Press