Canada monitors CN Rail labor dispute ahead of Oct. 21 talks


By David Ljunggren and Susan Taylor

OTTAWA/TORONTO, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Canada's government isclosely monitoring a dispute between the railroad workers' unionand Canadian National Railway Co and wants both sidesto continue talking, a spokeswoman for Labour Minister KellieLeitch said on Tuesday.

The railway says talks will resume on Oct. 21 withgovernment-appointed mediators, and union spokesman RolandHackl, a member of the bargaining team, said the union hoped toreach a deal "without a labor disruption."

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union said on Mondaythat talks had broken down, raising the possibility of a strikeor lockout at the country's largest railroad operator after adeadline expires at one minute after midnight on Oct. 29.

The union, which represents some 3,300 conductors, trainmen,yardmen and traffic coordinators, said CN rejected its offer toextend conciliation talks that ended on Oct. 7.

The union says talks stalled over CN demands for concessionsthat would force workers to work longer hours with less resttime between trips. Hackl told Reuters that the Montreal-basedrailway wants to increase the hours that some conductors can berequired to work to 12 from 10 hours per tour, and wages and theretirement plan are not central issues.

CN spokesman Mark Hallman said none its bargaining proposalswould compromise the health and safety of union members. "CNremains optimistic that it can negotiate an amicable settlement.... to avoid labour disruption in Canada," he said.

Railways move crucial commodities across Canada, includingpotash, coal, oil and a 2014 Western Canadian grain crop that isexpected to be one of the largest on record.

"Minister Leitch encourages both parties to continuenegotiating and reach a new collective agreement as soon aspossible, as the best solution in any dispute is always the onethat the parties reach themselves," said the spokeswoman.

"We are monitoring the situation closely."

The Canadian government has intervened several times inrecent years to force striking unionized rail and airlineworkers back on the job. In May 2012 Ottawa passed legislationthat ended a strike at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, CNRail's main domestic rival.

Leitch's spokeswoman did not respond to a question aboutwhether Ottawa would be prepared to intervene if CN Rail workerswent on strike.

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