Life is full of curious things and a couple of interesting ones have come across my desk recently.
Curious Thinking 1:
NDP candidate Jack Layton recently went on television to say that he wants to “get (some of) those big rigs and trucks off the road that are destroying the roads by investing in rail again.”
Truck driving is the single largest employment category in Canada with over 250,000 people listing themselves as drivers in the last census. You can add a multiplier to arrive at the total number of people employed in the industry in related occupations.
Truck drivers and others employed in the industry are considered to be “workers,” the very people that the New Democrats purport to represent. But their leader says he wants to remove trucks from the roads, thereby reducing the number of jobs for truck drivers.
Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the way trucking is regulated in Canada would be aware that truck weights are determined by engineers working for the Ministries responsible for transportation, not by the carriers. They would also know that those same Ministries monitor and enforce weight restrictions along with all the other aspects of trucking that are regulated.
And let’s think about the idea of moving freight from trucks to rail and the resulting impact on consumers. We live in an era where consumers have come to expect that everything from groceries to fresh produce to department store goods will be available on demand.
It is our efficient trucking system that makes that happen and anyone who has given the matter a little thought would realize that.
Joanne Ritchie, formerly of Industry Canada and now heading up the Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada was irate over Layton’s comments and sent him a letter with “the facts.”
She stressed the economic contribution that trucking makes to Canada’s prosperity, and pointed to the need for improvements to the highway system to better serve the industry. She told him frankly “we don’t need more truck vs rail rhetoric.”
Undoubtedly Jack must feel that he has some good arguments in his arsenal for why he should be elected, but this wasn’t one of them.
Curious Thinking 2:
The Ontario Ministry of Labour introduced amendments to the Employment Standards Act that effectively overturned amendments made by the previous government.
In his statement to the legislature, Labour Minister Chris Bentley committed the government to restoring the workers right to choose whether to work more than 48 hours in a week. Not a bad thing at all. He also said he was “taking a fair, balanced approach” between employees and their employers.
What the proposed legislation does not do is take that fair and balanced approach to the issue of overtime thresholds in the trucking community. I explained this issue in the November 2003 issue of Truck News, but I’ll re-iterate the basics here.
In Ontario, truck drivers in the for-hire sector are entitled to overtime after 50 hours if they are engaged in cartage, or 60 hours if they are highway drivers. The threshold for those driving for private carriers is 44 hours.
This puts private fleet managers at a distinct disadvantage when paying or indeed when hiring drivers. Drivers want to work and often are not content if they are limited to 44 hours per week, but any hours over that threshold cost private fleets a premium.
All of this has been explained to the ministry many times over many years, and to their credit, ministry officials acknowledge that there is no rational reason for this discrepancy. In response to a PMTC request, the ministry consulted with industry on the matter back in 2002, but has not revealed the results.
Our own review of overtime thresholds for truck drivers in other Canadian jurisdictions indicates that there is no differentiation between those in the for-hire and those in the private sector. Ontario stands alone in this regard.
So, the curious thing about the proposed amendments to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act is that the ministry has sidestepped an opportunity to correct an obvious imbalance in the law. Once again they’ve ignored an issue that even they acknowledge has merit, allowing a perfect opportunity to slip away.
Round and round we go.
– The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Comments can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org