Forum to conclude meetings this month

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. – Everyone has had their say. The next step is to see what the Quebec government will do with a report on the future of the province’s trucking industry, drafted by a forum that was born to end a series of protests snarling traffic and choking supply routes.

The forum has met six times since last October and was scheduled to meet one last time on Jan. 31, when members hoped to agree on a final version of the document outlining industry troubles.

But, cautions Marcel Bellemare, a consultant for the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) union that represents owner/operators, “the report will not mean that there is consensus among the participants.”

Basically, not every member at the bargaining table agrees on the root cause of financial woes that face truckers.

Three-hour interviews of a group of owner/operators were carried out before Christmas, according to Daniel Brulotte, the president of the Association des Proprietaires de Camions Remorques Independant de Quebec (APCRIQ). And the preliminary results showed that there are two groups of truckers: professionals who can run their businesses, and those who don’t have a head for business.

This was undoubtedly unwelcome news for several unions at the table that have argued worsening conditions – not incompetence – lie behind truckers’ problems in the province.

“We’re in this mess because people aren’t businessmen and the they don’t know their obligations,” argues Brulotte.

APCRIQ proposed a four-point solution at the forum. Paraphrased, the points are:

1. Strictly apply Bill 430 (which contains a safety rating system) for all owners and operators in Quebec, regardless of their size or location.

2. Develop an exam on the legal obligations of owners and operators. New businesses wishing to register at the Commission des Transports du Quebec would have to successfully complete the exam … assuring a high level of the knowledge on the part of future registrants.

3. Redefine “intermediary”, so that someone who is, in fact, a carrier cannot hide from regulators by forcing owner/operators who are under long-term contracts to obtain individual carrier permits. This would ensure that carriers assume their proper responsibilities and liabilities, putting all fleets on a level playing field.

4. Ask those who think they are businessmen to work together to clean up the industry so that, in the shortest time possible, those who assume their responsibilities and the cost of conforming can operate in a competitive environment.

Unions involved in the process want changes to the Labor Code to permit the unionizing of independent workers. “The risk, if the government doesn’t move, is that the dissatisfaction is still there. If nothing is done in February, the truckers will be impatient and they will demonstrate again,” says Bellemare.

Calls for lower fuel prices – along with calls for everything from better wages to the right to unionize owner/operators – were among the cries of more than 1,000 truckers who were involved in truck shutdowns and other protests in a nine-day job action that began Oct. 3. In the end, a court injunction brought an end to the action that culminated with a massive rally in downtown Montreal.

Curiously, though, Brulotte says that the unions at the table did not ask for minimum rates – a key CSN demand during the October blockades that led to the forum.

Says Pierre Miller, the president of the Canadian Co-operative of Independent Truck Owner/Operators (CO-OP), “I think we are finally going to find a solution to the problem. There are going to be major changes. That I know.” n

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