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Ships are docked at the Port of Montreal, Tuesday, Sept.19, 2023.Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press

The organization employing workers at the St. Lawrence Seaway says there has been little progress in labour negotiations with a major union just hours before workers are poised to walk off the job.

Unifor, which represents some 360 workers with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., issued a 72-hour strike notice to the employer earlier this week, saying seaway workers were ready to strike as of midnight Saturday.

A potential halt would likely affect cargo shipments immediately along the St. Lawrence corridor, which runs between Montreal and Lake Erie and carried $16.7 billion worth of cargo last year.

The seaway authority says Unifor continues to demand wage increases patterned after automotive negotiations, but asserts that while automotive workers had fallen behind inflation following givebacks, seaway workers have not.

It says workers have negotiated salary increases over the past 20 years and now take home wages that are 10 per cent ahead of inflation.

Negotiations began on June 19 and 20 with the help of a conciliator. The two sides held additional talks in September and resumed bargaining on Oct. 17.

Federal Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez said government mediators support the ongoing talks, adding the best deals are reached through negotiations.

“We must stay focused on the bargaining table,” he said in a social media post Saturday.

Terence Bowles, CEO of St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., said the authority is “very concerned” about the potential shutdown.

“As the clock ticks down to the potential start of a strike, we are working to ensure all vessels are able to safely exit the waterway or reach their destination within the system, at the same time as we are at the table trying to arrive at a labour agreement that is fair to the corporation and its employees,” Bowles said in a news release Saturday.

Unifor offered no comment on the talks on Saturday but said in a Friday statement that negotiations will continue until the “very last minute” to reach a deal.

“At this time the union and employer remain 1,000 nautical miles apart on wages,” the statement said.

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