Via Rail issues temporary layoffs to nearly 1,000 workers as blockades continue

Via Rail says it will be temporarily laying off up to 1,000 people as rail blockades in B.C. and Ontario have brought the passenger rail services network to a virtual standstill.

Some Indigenous protestors and sympathizers have shut down a key rail line in Northern B.C. because they oppose the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on the grounds that it would run through the hereditary land of the Wet’suwet’en people.

Another group has blockaded another key rail line near Belleville, Ont., in solidarity with the B.C. protest.

Those rail shutdown have drastically reduced Via’s ability to continue its service, so the network has been stripped down to a shadow of its former self while the protests go on. 

As of Tuesday, Via said the rail blockades have led to the cancellation of 532 regularly scheduled passenger trains.

The carrier got permission from CN Rail to resume partial service on its Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa corridor, and to resume regular service in southwestern Ontario between Toronto, Sarnia, Windsor, London and Niagara Falls, but network-wide the system is running at well under its usual capacity.

“Therefore, it is with sincere regret that we must proceed with temporary employee suspensions,” Via said in a statement to CBC News on Wednesday. “Starting today, close to 1,000 VIA Rail employees will receive a notice regarding this matter.”

It’s the first time in Via’s 42-year history that the carrier has had to interrupt most of its passenger service across the country, Via said.

Via’s largest union, Unifor, confirmed to CBC News that 875 of the layoff notices were issued to its members:175 to members of Unifor local 100, along with 700 to members of Council 4000.

“We recognize that these are a result of external factors outside both the employer and the union’s control, and expect these to be temporary disruptions,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in a statement.

More to come