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People look at the board for cancellations at the Montreal Trudeau Airport in Montreal, Que. on Dec. 30, 2019. Bad weather throughout Canada has led to the cancellations of various flights.Andrej Ivanov/The Globe and Mail

The unionized workers responsible for refuelling planes at Montreal’s two airports walked off the job Tuesday morning, raising the prospects of more flight delays and cancellations amid freezing rain and snow.

About 100 employees of Swissport Canada went on strike after rejecting on Friday a tentative agreement reached between the employee and their union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Refuelling operations are continuing using trained managers and workers from other airports, but the operator of Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Mirabel International Airport warned the strike could cause flight delays.

“Aéroports de Montréal [ADM] regrets that passengers ... through no fault of their own, in the midst of a labour dispute between Swissport Fuelling and its employees responsible for refuelling aircrafts,” the airport authority said in a statement.

Dozens of fights were cancelled at Trudeau airport on Monday amid freezing rain and snow that prompted the airport to limit takeoffs and landings. At noon on Tuesday, several flights were posted as delayed or cancelled.

Air Canada, the biggest airline at Trudeau airport, said it took actions ahead of time to ensure its operations are not affected by the strike.

“In anticipation of possible job action, we undertook several measures to ensure we continue to transport our customers, including tankering extra fuel and arranging alternate fuel suppliers,” said Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Montreal-based Air Canada. “We are also working closely with ADM and Swissport, which has made contingency plans to maintain its operations.”

A union representative was not available.

Zurich-based Swissport provides fuelling and ground handling services at 10 Canadian airports, and operates worldwide. Swissport issued a statement that accused the union of failing to bargain in good faith. “Our proposal included compensation increases for all employees that met the majority of the union’s demands,” Swissport said.

In its statement, Swissport said airport operations are unaffected “so far.”

“Anyone working for or on behalf of Swissport Canada has received thorough safety and job-specific training appropriate to their role,” Swissport said. “Our management team is actively engaged in the onboarding process because we have an obligation to our workforce and our partners to maintain a safe environment at both” Montreal airports.

The Canada Industrial Relations Board ruled Tuesday afternoon that the union could maintain its strike, but had to drop the new demands made on Sunday.

The board also ordered the union “immediately” back to the negotiating table with Swissport. Both sides say they have not yet set a date for negotiations to restart.

Federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi called on both sides to continue bargaining.

“I am disappointed that the parties have been unable to resolve their differences and I urge them to continue their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement,” she said in a release. “We are monitoring the situation closely.”

Salaries and work-life balance are the main points of contention between Swissport and its Montreal-area workers, who have been without a contract since August.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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