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Canada's Unifor union, St. Lawrence Seaway reach tentative deal, ending strike

By Ismail Shakil and Surbhi Misra

OTTAWA(Reuters) - The union representing St. Lawrence Seaway workers in eastern Canada said it reached a tentative labor agreement on Sunday, ending a week-long strike that shut down a key North American trade route linked to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Unifor union, representing some 360 workers, said it agreed to a deal with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp (Seaway) that would cover engineering, maintenance, and other worker groups in Ontario and Quebec provinces.

Other details of the agreement, which would need to be ratified by the workers, were not shared. Workers will return to their jobs from Monday morning.

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The strike started on Oct. 22 after contract talks with Seaway broke down, but the parties resumed negotiations on Friday as concerns grew about the impact of the seaway shutdown on the economy.

The St. Lawrence Seaway links the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and is managed by the Canadian not-for-profit Seaway Corp along with the U.S. Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

The strike - the latest in a string of contract disputes as workers demand higher compensation to make up for a rise in the cost of living - led to industry groups cautioning about supply chain disruptions potentially worsening inflation.

The walkout affected about 150 vessels over the one-week period and impeded the movement of grains and other commodities. About C$34 million ($24.5 million) in economic activity was being disrupted every day, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The Seaway Corp will begin to implement a recovery program immediately and will start passing ships progressively as of Monday, it said in a statement.

The seaway strike followed a 13-day walkout in July at some of Canada's busiest ports that disrupted trade and weighed on the economy.

About 36.3 million metric tons of cargo valued at C$16.7 billion passed through the St. Lawrence Seaway's infrastructure in 2022, according to the Canadian Manufacturing Coalition.

($1 = 1.3858 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa and Surbhi Misra in Bengaluru; Editing by Rod Nickel, Kim Coghill and Michael Perry)