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Via Rail to temporarily lay off 1,000 employees

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Via Rail Canada will temporary lay off approximately 1,000 employees as anti-pipeline blockades continue, bringing railway traffic across the country to a standstill.

Via Rail has had to cancel 532 trains as of Tuesday because of the disruption, which began earlier this month. Demonstrators have set up blockades in areas across the country in solidarity with opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northwestern British Columbia.

Via Rail has received authorization from CN Rail, which operates the track Via uses, to resume partial service on some routes. It initially said it would resume partial service on Thursday between Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa, but walked that decision back hours later due to a new blockade near St. Lambert, Que. As of Thursday evening, partial service between Montreal and Ottawa will resume, but service between Montreal and Quebec City will still be cancelled. Regular service in southwestern Ontario (Toronto-Sarnia-Windsor-London-Niagara Falls) will still begin Thursday.

Despite the partial return to service, the operator said it “has no choice” but to issue temporary employee suspensions.

Via Rail president and chief executive officer Cynthia Garneau said in a statement that the service disruption “is an unprecedented situation” in the company’s history.

“In 42 years of existence, it is the first time that VIA Rail, a public intercity passenger rail service, has to interrupt most of its services across the country,” Garneau said.

“We have done everything to mitigate the impact on our employees and our passengers. At this point, we believe we have made the fairest and most reasonable decision with the proposed temporary suspension plan.”

CN said Tuesday it would lay off about 450 workers in eastern Canada after cancelling more than 400 trains over the past week. The layoffs will affect operational staff, including employees working at Autoport in Eastern Passage, Moncton, Charny and Montreal.

<p class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” type=”text” content=”Canadian industries have warned that companies will be forced to shut down operations if the blockades continue.” data-reactid=”30″>Canadian industries have warned that companies will be forced to shut down operations if the blockades continue.

 

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RBC hiking dividend, buying back shares despite Q4 profit miss – BNN

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Royal Bank of Canada announced a dividend hike and plans to repurchase tens of millions of its shares on Wednesday despite also reporting quarterly profit that trailed expectations. 

In a release, RBC said it will raise its quarterly dividend 11 per cent to $1.20 per share. The bank said it’s also seeking approval from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) to buy back up to 45 million of its common shares.

It’s the second such move this week, after Bank of Nova Scotia similarly announced plans for a buyback and dividend hike on Tuesday. Both banks are doing so after OSFI recently lifted its pandemic-era prohibition on share repurchases and buybacks. 

RBC also said on Wednesday its 2021 fiscal year profit climbed 40 per cent year-over-year to $16.1 billion. In the fiscal fourth quarter, which ended Oct. 31, the bank’s net income rose 20 per cent to $3.89 billion. That bottom-line performance was helped in part by a release of $227 million from funds that were previously set aside for loans that could go bad. It’s the third consecutive quarter that RBC moved cash out of its provisions for credit losses and funneled that money into its profit stream. 

On an adjusted basis, the quarterly profit worked out to $2.71 per share. Analysts, on average, were expecting $2.81. 

“Our overall  performance  in  2021  reflected  strong  earnings,  premium  shareholder performance,  and  highlighted  our ability to successfully  navigate  a  complex  operating  environment  while  continuing  to  invest  in  talent  and  innovations  to  support  future growth,” said Dave McKay, RBC’s president and chief executive, in a release. 

RBC’s bread-and-butter personal and commercial banking unit was the primary profit driver in the latest quarter, as net income in that division rose 35 per cent year-over-year to $2.03 billion, in part thanks to the release of $208 million that was previously provisioned for potentially sour loans.  

Royal Bank’s domestic banking business also benefitted from double-digit growth in its mortgage book. Indeed, in a supplemental release Wednesday, RBC said it had an average Canadian mortgage balance of $329.5 billion in the fourth quarter; that represents year-over-year growth of almost 13 per cent compared to the balance of $293 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter of 2020. 

Fourth-quarter profit from the bank’s capital markets unit rose 10 per cent to $920 million, with RBC attributing some of that to a rise in mergers and acquisitions activity. 

Meanwhile, earnings from RBC’s wealth management business inched up two per cent year-over-year to $558 million.

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Ontario passes new rules aimed at work-life balance for employees – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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The Ontario government has passed new laws it says will help employees disconnect from the office and create a better work-life balance.

On Tuesday, the government said it passed the “Working for Workers Act,” which requires Ontario businesses with 25 people or more to have a written policy about employees’ rights when it comes to disconnecting from their job at the end of the day.

These workplace policies could include, for example, expectations about response time for emails and encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they aren’t working, the government says.

According to the act, between January 1 and March 1 of each year an employer must ensure it has a written policy in place for all employees with respect to disconnecting from work.

“We are determined to rebalance the scales and put workers in the driver’s seat of Ontario’s economic growth while attracting the best workers to our great province,” Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, said in a statement Tuesday.

The act also bans the use of non-compete clauses, which prevent people from exploring other work opportunities and higher salaries at other jobs.

According to the government, Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada, and one of the first in North America, to ban non-compete agreements in employment.

McNaughton says the new laws not only protects workers’ rights, but also will help to attract top talent and investments to the province.

The act also removes “unfair” work experience requirements for foreign-trained immigrants trying to work in their professions. 

It also introduces a mandatory licencing framework for temporary help agencies and recruiters to help prevent labour trafficking.

“This legislation is another step towards building back a better province and cementing Ontario’s position as a global leader, for others to follow, as the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family,” McNaughton said.

A government spokesperson told CTV News Toronto that while the act has not yet received royal assent, it is expected to later this week.

Timelines for when each law under the Working For Workers Act will come into effect have not been announced yet and the government said it there will be a initial grace period for businesses.

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Asian factories shake off supply headaches but Omicron presents new risks

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Asian factory activity grew in November as crippling supply bottlenecks eased, but rising input costs and renewed weakness in China dampened the region’s prospects for an early, sustained recovery from pandemic paralysis.

The newly detected Omicron coronavirus variant has also emerged as a fresh worry for the region’s policymakers, who are already grappling with the challenge of steering their economies out of the doldrums while trying to tame inflation amid rising commodity costs and parts shortages.

China’s factory activity fell back into contraction in November, the private Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) showed on Wednesday, as soft demand and elevated prices hurt manufacturers.

The findings from the private-sector survey, which focuses more on small firms in coastal regions, stood in contrast with those in China’s official PMI on Tuesday that showed manufacturing activity unexpectedly rose in November, albeit at a very modest pace.

“Relaxing constraints on the supply side, especially the easing of the power crunch, quickened the pace of production recovery,” said Wang Zhe, senior economist at Caixin Insight Group, in a statement accompanying the data release.

“But demand was relatively weak, suppressed by the COVID-19 epidemic and rising product prices.”

Beyond China, however, factory activity seemed to be on the mend with PMIs showing expansion in countries ranging from Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Japan’s PMI rose to 54.5 in November, up from 53.2 in October, the fastest pace of expansion in nearly four years.

South Korea’s PMI edged up to 50.9 from 50.2 in October, holding above the 50-mark threshold that indicates expansion in activity for a 14th straight month.

But output shrank in South Korea for a second straight month as Asia’s fourth-largest economy struggles to fully regain momentum in the face of persistent supply chain disruptions.

“Overall, with new export orders flooding back to countries previously hamstrung by Delta outbreaks and the disruption further down the supply chain still working through, there is plenty of scope for a continued rebound in regional industry,” said Alex Holmes, emerging Asia economist at Capital Economics.

India’s manufacturing activity grew at the fastest pace in 10 months in November, buoyed by a strong pick-up in demand.

Vietnam’s PMI rose to 52.2 in November from 52.1 in October, while that of the Philippines increased to 51.7 from 51.0.

Taiwan’s manufacturing activity continued to expand in November but at a slower pace, with the index hitting 54.9 compared with 55.2 in October. The picture was similar for Indonesia, which saw PMI ease to 53.9 from 57.2 in October.

The November surveys likely did not reflect the spread of the Omicron variant that could add further pressure on pandemic-disrupted supply chains, with many countries imposing fresh border controls to seal themselves off.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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