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Bubble Bubble Forum Troubles

MONTREAL, Que. - The last three years of labour peace in Quebec may be partly thanks to the fact that carriers, owner/operators and the government have been able to air their concerns at the Forum of ...

MONTREAL, Que. – The last three years of labour peace in Quebec may be partly thanks to the fact that carriers, owner/operators and the government have been able to air their concerns at the Forum of Stakeholders in the General Trucking Industry.

But the Forum’s 13-month-old standard contract has bombed, and the Forum itself may be more bark than bite in solving industry problems.

Bark is not bad, if you think of the Forum as a means of consulting the trucking industry.

“I think the Forum should be exactly what it says it is: a forum for having debate and consultation,” says an industry expert, who requested anonymity.

But, he says, “It is no place for establishing rules and regulations.”

The Forum was born after the province-wide blockades in October 1999 as a place to encourage dialogue between the major stakeholders in the industry.

“The Forum has served its purpose as far as bringing heads to the table to discuss things.

“At first there was (figuratively) fist throwing and accusations because people did not know the rules,” says the expert, with reference to the Forum’s mandate to discuss business issues, not labour issues.

If not for the Forum when fuel costs soared in 2000, “things would have been pretty ugly,” says Forum member Richard Gris, who is director of services for the Truckers Co-op with the Fdration des travailleurs et travailleuses du Qubec.

“We explained to the carriers what we were facing. We put up a formula of indexation that would have been impossible to make acceptable and understood before the Forum.”

Yet the standard contract, the template of possible terms O/Os can refer to when negotiating the agreements to haul for pay, has been met with fear and apathy – reportedly, the 20 seminars the Forum held across the province drew only about 100 people.

“The standard contract that came out was a shame on the Forum,” says the expert.

“The government sent everyone a sample contract, but vice presidents and companies don’t have time to deal with this bit of paper, they don’t understand it.”

Not only that, says Gris.

“At the beginning we said the standard contract had to be 100 percent enforced.

“We scared the carriers like hell.

“We then asked the carriers what clauses they didn’t like.

“Right now we are at the stage of getting the carriers to understand what the standard contract and clauses means.”

“Most companies have contracts in place and truckers are not or do not want to use it.

“We are trying to assess whether it is resistance to its use or the lack of knowledge about it,” says Forum representative Richard Fahey, the vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

This bad news will come as no surprise to those who saw the mid-90s version of the standard contract, the minimum contract, fail.

Another victim of the so-far failure of the standard contract to take hold has been that the Forum’s mediation and arbitration centre remains unused – no one has anything to mediate or arbitrate.

The Forum can, however, claim other successes, says Fahey.

“We worked hard on the border crossing – the time truckers spend at the border. We were involved after 9/11, at the beginning of the War with Iraq. We were in contact with the border officials. The Forum played a role in the Quebec region.

“Another big element, after the Iraq war was SARS and mad-cow.

“A lot of truckers were concerned about licence fees, which cannot be paid in installments in Quebec.

“They wanted an installment schedule put in place. This is another issue brought to the Forum table.”

The last is the lack of vehicle insurance packages. This is a big concern for members at the Forum.

“Some of our members are complaining of insurance hikes of 200 to 300 per cent this year,” says Fahey.

Whether the Forum’s interest in these issues will result in any changes in policy or regulations is doubtful, warns the expert.

“The Forum has done a good job in educating people of the roles in transportation, but what it can do is limited by what is going on in the rest of North America.”

Take the issue of teaching business skills to drivers, which has never been described as better than horrible.

This is on the Forum’s agenda, but can it do anything beyond rehash and refresh an issue that academics and associations have been squawking about for years?

The point is, says the expert, is that when it comes to consultation and talk, the Forum has its place. “The Forum is fulfilling an important role in Quebec. The other provinces aren’t doing jack shit,” acknowledges the expert.

“But what else can the Forum do? Time will tell if the Forum is relevant or not.”

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