A perennial sticking point in work stoppages and labour disputes at Canada’s two major railways is expected to be at least somewhat addressed within the next two and a half years.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau on Nov. 25 announced what’s billed as the first updates to the Duty/Rest Rules for Railway Operating Employees since 2011.
“The new rules represent a historic improvement over the existing framework and incorporate modern and evidence-based fatigue management principles to a whole sector of the transportation industry,” he said in a release.
The updates, which are to take effect in 30 months from Nov. 25 for freight railways– and in 48 months for passenger railways — set new limits on the length of a duty period and increase the length of the minimum rest period between shifts, the government said.
Specifically, the new updates would cap the length of duty period at 12 hours, down from the current 16, and also require “fatigue assessment and intervention measures for shifts ending during overnight hours.”
Rest periods, currently set at a minimum six hours at home or eight hours when away from home, would be extended to a minimum 12 hours at home or 10 hours away.
The new rules also limit the total number of hours that can be worked, at 60 hours over a seven-day period, 192 hours over a 28-day period and 2,500 hours in a year.
The government said its updates also more clearly define “commuting” and “deadheading” — the latter involving the authorized transport of operating employees from one work location to another. The new rules would also adjust hours of rest to consider an employee’s time spent deadheading.
Also, the government said, where the current rules make no allowance for time away from work, the new rules call for 32 hours’ time away from work every seven days, with two eight-hour rest periods for freight railway operations.
To “ensure implementation” of the new rules, the 30-month lead time is expected to give railway companies 12 months to complete new fatigue management plans, and 24 months to put new fitness-for-duty provisions in place, the government said.
The government also said its revised rules “will be complemented by regulations on fatigue risk management systems, to further mitigate the risks of fatigue.”
Garneau, in his statement, thanked both the railway industry and labour unions for their contributions to the new rules “based on the principles of fatigue science.”
But in a letter to union members on Nov. 26, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) president Lyndon Isaak said that after an initial review of the new rules, “we were extremely disappointed and concerned with some of the content contained and issues that were completely overlooked or not addressed.”
Following a conference call that day with Transport Canada officials, he said, the union can expect “a letter of clarification will be created to address perceived ambiguity and some other issues.”
Isaak said the new rules also don’t address several points laid out in Garneau’s Dec. 20, 2018 ministerial order, which had called for the railways to revise work/rest rules for his approval.
That ministerial order had called for new rules that deal with maximum duty periods and cumulative time on duty, as well as minimum rest periods and time free from work. But the order also called for the railways to address matters such as split shifts and advance notice of work schedules, as well as fatigue management plans.
Transport Canada, Isaak said, “assured us that these points will be covered off in the development of regulations for a fatigue risk management system, which will also further address risks from fatigue.”
Rest for workers was a key sticking point that led to an eight-day strike in November last year by TCRC-led conductors and yard workers at Canadian National Railway (CN), and to a 33-hour strike by TCRC-led conductors and engineers at Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) in May 2018.
The Teamsters last December also went to Federal Court in Toronto to seek contempt-of-court charges against CP for allegedly making conductors and locomotive engineers stay late despite an arbitrator’s decision that ends duty after their shifts. — Glacier FarmMedia Network