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More port unrest?

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Another damaging economic disruption on Canada's left coast may have been averted with a recent proposed regulation by the federal government.

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Another damaging economic disruption on Canada’s left coast may have been averted with a recent proposed regulation by the federal government.

The port authorities in B.C.’s Lower Mainland have worked diligently to bring stability to the port system since the six-week labour disruption during the summer of 2005, but the threat of another strike by container haulers servicing the region, nearly negated two years of continuous progress.

“The port handles in excess of $50 billion of goods in a year. The traffic is growing, trade with Asia is growing and the ports want to be the gateway of choice for North America,” explained Paul Landry, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association. “We want to attract business not only for Canada, but for North America and it is essential that we can communicate stability to our trading partners. Disruptions are totally counteractive to getting that message out, those disruptions in ’99 and ’05, cost hundreds of millions of dollars of economic money to B.C. and Western Canada.”

The labour disruption two years ago was brought to an end with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), drafted by government-appointment mediator Vince Ready. Essentially, owner/operators were dissatisfied with the rate of compensation being paid to truckers, and undercutting by competing companies.

But with the MOA nearing the end of its two-year term, about 600 owner/operators participated in a protest convoy to express their desire to have the MOA extended, among other key issues.

“I don’t know if anything is going to happen now that the government has stepped in and addressed one of the key demands, which was an extension of the MOA,” Landry told Truck News.

In an op-ed piece penned by Jim Sinclair, president for the B.C. Federation of Labour, which was published in the July 20 edition of The Vancouver Province, he outlined the other concerns of owner/operators serving the ports. As well as an extension of the Ready Agreement, owner/operators wanted better enforcement of the MOA, and to extend the moratorium on new trucks to everyone in the port and not just owner/operators.

“Truckers aren’t asking for more money; they just want what they were promised two years ago to be properly enforced,” the column stated.

Sinclair also made it clear in his column that if the concerns of the owner/operators were not addressed, a repeat of the labour disruption in 2005 was highly likely.

The BCTA chief responded to the column in a letter to The Province – which was not published – blasting the tactics as intimidation.

“I agree with Mr. Sinclair that we don’t want a sequel to 2005. However, his description of 2005 somewhat sanitizes the nefarious reality of the event. What he describes as benign ‘withdrawal of services’ and ‘picket lines,’ the media at the time reported as blockades, violence and intimidation,” stated Landry’s letter.

“Government chose to appease the owner/operators in 2005 only to be threatened again in 2007. Maybe it’s time to stand up to the intimidation and assure the public that the full force of the law will be applied to keep our ports open,” Landry’s letter concluded.

On Aug. 1 however, the federal and provincial government announced a joint initiative in an effort to maintain stable wages and working conditions for owner/operators serving the Lower Mainland ports.

The regulation will ensure that independent owner/operators are compensated at no less than the rates of remuneration set out in the original MOA.

Under the revised regulation, independent owner/operators are to receive rates of remuneration that are set out under collective agreements, as long as the rates of remuneration are higher than or equal to those established in the MOA. The port authorities are required to incorporate this measure into their licensing regime.

“During the pre-publication consultation period, we received submissions from a number of stakeholder groups with a wide range of views on this matter,” said Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. “The regulation was amended to provide a higher level of stability of rates for independent owner/operators, who during consultations, clearly indicated that rate sustainability is of utmost importance.”

Other changes made to the regulation include the specific exclusion of owner/operators engaged in the long-haul industry, the requirement that collective agreements be posted on the Vancouver Port Authority’s Web site, and the requirement that this measure be reviewed by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities within two years of its coming into force.

“The review will not only allow us to assess the success of this measure, but the overall state of the local container trucking industry as well,” added Cannon.

In addition, the regulation was revised to allow independent haulers to be compensated according to rates of remuneration contained in collective agreements that are amended or renegotiated in the future. While the compensation negotiated in these agreements can move upward over time, the rates of remuneration contained in the MOA will remain the minimum that may be paid to independent owner/operators.

The province, for its part, will develop and manage a fair and effective dispute resolution mechanism to support the new federal regulations. This will include investigation and adjudication of alleged contraventions of rates paid to owner/operators, including any allegations of companies undercutting minimum collective agreement rates.

“Our ports have to remain open and reliable if we’re going to capitalize on the economic opportunities associated with growing Asian trade,” said B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon. “We welcome the federal regulations, and I’m confident the dispute resolution system will ensure appropriate enforcement.”

The province, with support from the federal government, established a stakeholder forum in April 2006 to address concerns of the container truck industry.

Forum members, representing businesses, unions and ports, have been developing logistical solutions to improve the reliability, efficiency and productivity of the Lower Mainland container transport system.

The province has developed a Web site to support the work of the forum – – including an informational online calculator that helps owner/operators understand their costs and compensation.

The federal regulation was published in Canada Gazette, Part II on Aug. 2.

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