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Mon, Jul 27, 2009 - Page 10 News List

VIA temporarily lays off thousands

AFP , MONTREAL

A VIA Rail Canada ticket counter is pictured at Union Station in Toronto, Canada, on Friday.

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Canadian national carrier Via Rail on Saturday temporarily laid off some 2,000 employees after a railway strike ground passenger train service to a halt, a spokeswoman said.

The employees received notice on Friday after 340 locomotive engineers and yardmasters went on strike, Via Rail spokeswoman Claude Arsenault said.

“If the conflict is not resolved, on Wednesday, we will close 16 stations that are still open” and all 2,400 Via Rail employees would then be temporarily without a job, she said.

The workers, including those who maintain the trains or those who work in call centers, are represented by the Canadian Auto Workers union, and not Teamsters Canada, which represents railway workers.

Negotiations between Teamsters Canada, representing 340 locomotive engineers and the railway company have been ongoing for two and a half years, in hopes of reaching a collective agreement, and wage negotiations failed on Friday.

The two conflicting parties were seeking Saturday to “find a potential solution” with the help of a mediator named by the Canadian government, Arsenault said.

The strike has paralyzed almost all Canadian passenger trains, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Some 12,000 people use Via Rail services each day.

Train service linking the financial capital Toronto in the east and the western city of Vancouver had already been suspended earlier in the week, in order to prevent passengers traveling along the 4,500km route from being left stranded indefinitely.

The strike does not affect freight trains.

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