Container haulers sound warning

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VANCOUVER, B.C. – With labour tension rising, an agreement on the verge of expiration and events of the previous summer’s work stoppage still a vivid memory, the federal government took strides towards stabilizing the West Coast container haulage industry.

A forum of stakeholders in Vancouver’s port system, including provincial and federal government officials, was organized in mid-April to discuss solutions to better handle increased container traffic and the looming expiration of an Order in Council.

“The ports in Vancouver are vital to local and national economies and should run as seamlessly as possible in order to accommodate trade,” stated David Emerson, federal Minister of International Trade. “These ports have a critical role to play in realizing the opportunities associated with emerging Asia Pacific trade and the Pacific Gateway Initiative.”

Last summer, activity in the Vancouver ports came to a standstill for 47 days. A tumultuous labour disruption left a backlog of containers accumulating at the port. With more than 1,000 truckers on strike, the Canadian economy took an estimated hit of $500 million. Disgruntled drivers ceased hauling containers from the port as rising fuel prices coupled with inadequate remuneration created inoperable conditions.

After a series of failed attempts by mediators to bring the sides to an agreeable situation, the federal government restored normalcy with an Order in Council, which required companies to follow the rates outlined by the port authority. The order was renewed twice by the former Liberal government, but was set to expire again two days after the Vancouver port forum.

It was reported the new Conservative government was not going to extend the Order in Council and hundreds of truckers staged a rolling protest on roadways near the meeting to express their discontent. The chief concerns among the container haulers was that without set remuneration rates, companies would begin to undercut rates and create a situation similar to the summer of 2005.

A task force, headed by the federal government, was established last fall to examine transportation and other industrial related issues to ports in the Lower Mainland of B.C. After further consultation with the Vancouver Port Authority and the Fraser River Port Authority, the federal government confirmed the rumours there would not be a renewal of the past summer’s Order in Council.

On April 20, the same expiration date of the Order in Council, the Government of Canada announced a series of regulations amending the existing Port Authorities Operations Regulations. The proposed regulations are aimed to stabilize container trucking in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, ensure the efficient movement of containers and promote long-term stability of operations amongst the ports.

“Shippers and clients around the world need to know that the Lower Mainland ports are reliable,” said Lawrence Cannon, federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. “Today’s proposed regulations will improve the efficiency of these ports and maintain their excellent reputation worldwide.”

Under the proposed regulations, port authorities will have the legal obligation to establish a licensing system, set minimum conditions on licences and ensure these conditions are respected.

The minimum conditions would be related to:

* the reservation system established or adopted by the port authority;

* the port authority’s requirements for the identification of trucks and other road transportation equipment (and the tracking and monitoring of these trucks and equipment as they move into, within, and out of the port);

* any applicable law that governs rates of remuneration received by the owner/operator of a tractor covered by an authorization for the delivery, pick-up or movement of containers into or out of the port.

Omitted from the regulations was a mandatory requirement to adhere to specifically set rates to gain access to the ports. Specific outlined rates were a mandatory condition as part of last summer’s Order in Council and a key part of the complaints among many independent truckers.

The proposed regulations also reinforce the measures being established by the Vancouver Port Authority and Fraser River Port Authority to implement licensing regimes setting out conditions of entry that will improve efficiency at the ports, reduce wait times and increase the number of daily trips made by owner/operators.

New licensing regimes were introduced by the Vancouver Port Authority and the Fraser River Port Authority, which included stronger requirements to the mandatory Truck Licensing System (TLS).

Both port authorities began implementing the new TLS on March 27 and headlining the new provisions is mandatory compliance with container terminal reservations systems. Other requirements in the new licensing system included mandatory participation in a truck monitoring and vehicle location program, disclosure and sharing of vehicle and driver safety information, enhanced environmental and safety standards, and compliance with designated truck routes. The new TLS underwent a 60-day transition period and became official on May 25.

The proposed regulations amending the Port Authorities Operations Regulations were published on Apr. 20 and were subject to a 30-day response window.

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