The work stoppage by independent truckers at the Port of Vancouver has come to a painful and largely unsatisfactory end.
By Leo Quigley, AJOT
As of August 19, the backlog of domestic containers at the Port of Vancouver’s container terminals had been pared down to about 5,000 boxes according to Anne McLellan, port spokesperson. However, drivers and brokers remain reluctant to work evening and weekend shifts and the long-term effects of the standoff are still to be measured while a federal task force delves into the problems that have seriously affected Vancouver’s reputation.
McLellan told AJOT that the reputation damage has been most serious in Asia where shippers are now planning years ahead and need some kind of assurances that the port they planned on doing business with has a stable labor environment.
Early on in the work stoppage, port president and CEO Gordon Houston told truckers that their work stoppage was, “damaging the reputation of the Port of Vancouver as a reliable gateway and that will lead to a loss of business and jobs. The port’s major customers are saying that due to the unreliable labor climate in British Columbia, they are looking at diverting cargo on a permanent basis.”
Just as damaging may have been the way in which the stoppage was finally settled ’ by ramming a 90-day agreement for higher rates, a fuel surcharge and “cooling off period” down the throats of brokers and making it a condition for doing business with the port.
Even worse, perhaps, was a follow-up Order in Council that included long distance truckers, who own their own trucks and employ their own drivers, in the deal.
This extension of an unpopular settlement arrived at by federal mediator in the dispute, Vince Ready, brought a quick and angry response from the BC Truckers Association, a group that stayed on the sidelines during the strike, saying the container truckers’ dispute was essentially a business-to-business disagreement between trucking companies and their independent contractors.
In a letter to Canada’s minister of transport, Paul Landry, president of the association, blasted the government for “inexplicably” accepting the provision change forcing all carriers into a two-year deal that was never ratified.
“Moreover,” he said, “mandating a two-year agreement appears to negate the requirement for a federal-provincial task force whose mandate is to deal with the underlying causes for this business dispute.”
Further, Landry said the temporary settlement, “essentially rewarded the independent contractors for their illegal and costly shut down of the Vancouver and Fraser River ports through intimidation and violence.
“Forcing trucking companies into the independent contractor/MOA model has the potential to cause significant disruption,” he said. “It is possible that other ports in Canada could be affected as could international trucking.”
While only 1,200 owner-operators contracted to 40 or 50 companies were involved in the dispute, hundreds of other fleets in long-haul operations, with entirely different business models and compensation agreements, have now been hauled into the conflict, said Landry.
“(This) makes no sense whatsoever. Surely the federal government does not expect a trucking company that has contracted with independent contactors for service based on hourly rates (including wait times) to convert to trip rates?
” ’ Surely, the federal government does not intend for trucking companies serving the Lower Mainland ports with employee drivers to fire them and sell their equipment in favor of independent contractors?”
The net effect, the letter said, is that non-union companies who do not sign the agreement will not be allowed to service the port.
“The licensing system has created a form of sectoral bargaining that will make port trucking confrontations even more likely, difficult, and complicated in the future.”
As things stand now, Vancouver container truckers who aggressively drove down trip rates through cutthroat compet