Wires

UPDATE 2-Canada's labor union says no progress in talks with CN Rail; strike threatens grain exports

Kelsey Johnson and Allison Lampert

threatens grain exports@ (Recasts throughout, adds detail, background, PIX available)

OTTAWA/MONTREAL, Nov 25 (Reuters) - A strike at Canada's largest railroad, Canadian National Railway Co., is threatening to slow agricultural exports with more than thirty vessels waiting at Canada's West Coast by Monday to load grain shipments to be shipped to overseas buyers.

As the strike by some 3,200 unionized employees entered its seventh day on Monday, labor union Teamsters Canada said on it had made no progress in reaching an agreement. We are "no closer to reaching an agreement than when the strike began," union spokesman Chris Monette told Reuters by phone.

Striking conductors and yard workers are demanding improved working conditions, including worker rest breaks in what is Canada's biggest rail strike in a decade.

Quorum Corporation President Mark Hemmes, which monitors the movement of prairie grain for the Canadian government, told Reuters there were 21 ships parked in the Port of Vancouver as of Friday and nine anchored at the Port of Prince Rupert, in northern British Columbia.

Those figures, he added, would likely to rise by Monday to a combined 35 vessels, which are used to transport the grains to international markets.

Canada relies on its two major railways - CN and Canadian Pacific Railway to move products like crops, oil, potash, coal and other manufactured goods to ports and the United States.

A CN spokesman said company officials continue to negotiate and call for binding arbitration, a demand the union has rejected thus far.

A spokeswoman for Canadian Labor Minister Filomena Tassi declined comment.

In a tweet on Saturday, Tassi said the federal government, which has so far sidestepped calls to intervene and force workers back to work by insisting collective bargaining is the fastest way to so the dispute, was monitoring the situation closely. Talks between CN and union officials were ongoing but no deal had been reached, she said.

The strike, Hemmes said, is affecting both shippers who are captive to CN lines and exporters who rely on CP, because many of the grain handling facilities at the country's major ports are serviced only by CN.

"Any Richardson facility or Cargill facility that is located on CP (lines) is basically unable to ship anything from the country to Vancouver," he explained, referring to major Canadian grain companies.

Richardson International and Cargill Inc could not immediately be reached outside of business hours.

Economists have estimated a prolonged strike could hit already slowing growth expected by year's end while costing the Canadian economy billions. About half of the country's exports move by rail, industry figures show.

(Reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Denny Thomas and Nick Zieminski)