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Outlook bleak for young industry working group

TORONTO, Ont. - The Dec. 4 meeting of Ontario's Trucking Industry Working Group may have been its last, considering the mood of trucker representatives in attendance.The Working Group, composed of tru...


LOSING FAITH: There were more empty seats than warm bodies at this NTA rally on the eve of the federal election, suggesting truckers are growing weary of the fight against high fuel prices.(Photo by Frank Condron)
LOSING FAITH: There were more empty seats than warm bodies at this NTA rally on the eve of the federal election, suggesting truckers are growing weary of the fight against high fuel prices.(Photo by Frank Condron)

TORONTO, Ont. – The Dec. 4 meeting of Ontario’s Trucking Industry Working Group may have been its last, considering the mood of trucker representatives in attendance.

The Working Group, composed of truckers, shippers, carriers and the government, was pulled together by Economic Development Minister Al Palladini in September in response to trucker protests over the high cost of diesel fuel.

“It was a terrible meeting, a total farce,” says Bill Wellman, president of the Oshawa, Ont.-based National Truckers Association (NTA), which claims to have almost 2,000 members. “If the group isn’t finished, it’s close to being finished. It’s not working in our favor. The group was formed for us, but they (the carriers and shippers) took it over and we get no say.”

Greater Ottawa Truckers Association (GOTA) general manager Dwayne Mosley felt the agenda of the meeting was decided before the trucker representatives got there.

“I thought the whole thing stunk,” says Mosley. “We couldn’t bring any issues to the table. The chairman, Brock Smith, had his plan for the meeting and he did what he wanted to do. Personally, I feel it was a waste of my time to be there.”

The GOTA represents about 600 mostly aggregate haulers and recently opened a new branch in Toronto.

Dave Chalut, who represented the Northern Ontario Truckers Association (NOTA) at the meeting, says he will leave it up to the roughly 170 members of that organization to decide if the group continues to participate. “As it stands now, I don’t know if we will be at any future meetings.”

The truckers’ representatives were especially offended by the refusal, they say, of carrier and shipper representatives at the meeting to talk about the terms of a “settlement” reached at a meeting of the Working Group on Oct. 20.

The truckers say a verbal agreement was made at the Oct. 20 meeting on a basic set of voluntary contract guidelines for carriers and owner/operators in the province. Central to that agreement was the promise of an 8.9 per cent fuel surcharge to be passed through 100 per cent to owner/operators. In addition, the provincial government pledged to work with the group to put an ombudsman in place by Nov. 1 to ensure that the new contract guidelines were followed.

In exchange for the co-operation of the carriers and shippers in finalizing the guidelines, the truckers’ associations agreed to stop all protests and return to work.

And, to give the truckers some level of comfort with the agreement in the absence of any kind of enforcement mechanism, Palladini even restated the terms of the agreement in a letter to all parties involved and signed it.

Little has happened, however, since Oct. 20. Not only is the ombudsman still not in place, complains Wellman, but truckers representatives were not involved in meetings of the Working Group held between Oct. 20 and Dec. 4. But even more disturbing for the truckers’ groups, he says, is the fact many carriers are still not passing surcharges paid by the shippers along to independents in full, and many O/Os continue to receive no surcharge at all.

“The 8.9 per cent, that’s history,” says Wellman with contempt. “They wouldn’t even discuss the fuel surcharge at the last meeting. They said, `That was just a guideline, nobody agreed to it.'”

Mosley believes guaranteeing the pass-through of fuel surcharges was the key element driving the talks for the truckers. But without willingness on the part of the carriers and the shippers to make progress on that point, Mosley doesn’t know if there is much reason for the Working Group to meet again.

“The carrier and shipper associations don’t have the power to make decisions on behalf of their members, and their members aren’t willing to commit to anything,” explains Mosley. “The problem is some carriers getting a fuel surcharge from their customers believe it’s their money. They don’t feel the fuel surcharge belongs to the guy putting the fuel in the tank.” n


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