by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. – Ninety-six percent of surveyed truckers are dissatisfied with their work, according to results found in a report on the Forum on General Trucking, obtained by Truck News. The report also outlines many problems in the industry, ranging from a shortage of drivers to poor training, unpaid waiting time and a negative impact on family life.

The report from the forum, struck last October as part of a deal to stop trucker demonstrations in Quebec, is now in the hands of the provincial government, which has attempted to keep results under wraps.

But those participating in the discussions say there are solutions within the document, even if the different parties can’t agree on the specific directions that the government should embrace.

Some argued that owner/operators should have the right to organize and bargain for collective contracts, while others advocated a single professional association to offer the truckers enormous buying power and the right to mediate disputes with employers.

Transports Quebec announced it would present its recommendations to forum participants during a meeting on Feb. 25. From there, any recommendations will then be passed on to the Cabinet for its consideration.

The forum was mandated to outline the issues that owner/operators face within the trucking industry as a whole. It also attempted to define the issues and problems in the context of deregulation.

The report looks at truckers and their salaries, education and personal demographics. Compared to the non-trucker workforce, which is 45.5 percent female, 97 per cent of truckers are male. The average trucker is older, has more kids under 18, is more likely to be married and about half as likely – at 42 per cent – to have a spouse who works outside the home. Quebec truckers were also found to be less likely than the average worker to have a secondary education.

Yet, in 1998, the average Canadian trucker made $7 more a week than the average worker, and nearly $100 a week more than in 1997. Unionized truckers make nearly $900 a week.

By province, Quebec truckers rank fourth in earnings.

But participants disagreed about how much an O/O earns, with unions low-balling wages at $3.51/hour, the Association des Proprietaires de Camions Remorques Independants du Quebec (APCRIQ) pegging it at $24.35/hour and the Federation des Travailleurs splitting the difference at roughly $19/hour.

The report outlines trucking patterns in different regions within the province, road security and professional concerns in the industry. And some participating groups insisted it is too easy to get into the business, rates are too low, owner/operators have insufficient business skills, and that there is an absence of a common front when dealing with shippers.

In a notice to its members, the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) said the report found deregulation has lowered truckers’ buying power, while truckers are cavalier about exceeding maximum hours of service.

Participants also recognized the need to harmonize cabotage rules between the U.S. and Canada. There was also a call for better ways to regulate hours of driving, and allow those looking for more-economical models to quickly write down the cost of an existing truck.

The best reading was at the end, where participants’ solutions are presented. According to the report, the participants group roughly into two camps: unions and everyone else. The unions – the Centrale des Syndicates Democratique (CSD) and the CSN – favor organizing salaried drivers, and dependent and independent O/Os so they can negotiate working conditions. They repeated their long-standing demand for the Quebec Labor Code to be changed to allow owner/operators to unionize and bargain collectively.

The other camp regards O/Os like entrepreneurs. Any organizations they might belong to should be working to improve buying power, represent the industry in front of the government, and provide business training to their members, as examples.

The Association des Proprietaires de Camions Remorques Independant de Quebec (APCRIQ) offered a four-point solution: Strictly apply the safety ratings of Bill 430; develop an entrance exam on the legal obligations of owners and operators; redefine the term “intermediary” so that shippers can’t disguise themselves; and ask industry members to work together to clean up the industry.

Other participants suggested creating a lobby group, or forcing membership in organizations responsible for applying standards of business management for O/Os. Such organizations would also be allowed to represent their members in front of carriers, but would not be allowed to negotiate working conditions.

Yet another participant suggested that more research was needed to better understand the context in which dissatisfied truckers work, and the size of the phenomenon.

The mega-association proposed by the FTQ would be a vastly enlarged version of existing associations like APCRIQ and the Coop/Metallos, explains Coop president Pierre Miller. Membership would be mandatory and could sweep in up to 15,000 O/Os. For the first three years it would be run by the FTQ. Then members could vote on which organization – such as the CSN or the CSD – would run it for the next thee years.

The association would provide information to O/Os such as operating costs in different regions and industry sectors, allowing them to make informed decisions during contract negotiations. Business seminars, a code of ethics, a re-introduction of minimum clauses (a boiler-plate contract for non-monetary clauses) and an arbitration tribunal are among the services and structures the association would provide.

Miller thinks the FTQ proposal is workable and cheap, compared to trying to change the Labor Code. “Theoretically, it would take years to change that,” says Miller. But for a mega-association, says Miller, “no law would have to be changed. The Minister of Transport would only have to say that all O/Os would have to belong to a professional association.”

The unions think the FTQ proposal is toothless because a professional association would have no right to negotiate working conditions. The real fear, however, could be that membership in all other unions and associations would simply dry up if it became a reality. n

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