MONTREAL, Que. - La Belle Province has always been famous for its Forums.But far removed from the once mighty ice rink, there are a number of interesting games being played by a group of the same name...
MONTREAL, Que. – La Belle Province has always been famous for its Forums.
But far removed from the once mighty ice rink, there are a number of interesting games being played by a group of the same name.
After what seems like an eternity, Quebec O/Os may soon have a standard contract to guide them in negotiating the terms of their next deal.
The Forum of stakeholders in the general freight trucking industry (or simply the Forum) has been hammering out drafts since February and may have something ready all parties can agree on by year’s end.
“We have drafts that we are ready to present to the main Forum, but there are still some issues to be discussed. The contract that will be developed will not be law, but it will be promoted and supported by organizations like the Quebec Trucking Association (QTA) and the government,” explains Melanie Lessard, the co-ordinator for compliance and legal affairs with the QTA. “(The standard contract is) really a (set of) tools to remind people you have to deal with certain things.”
The standard contract will also contain a dispute mechanism, according to Lessard. This was another of the Forum’s goals for this year – to elaborate a means for arbitrating disputes between O/Os and carriers.
A Forum sub-committee is also working to develop a formula to help O/Os bill fuel surcharges to carriers.
Beyond the sort of general details people like Lessard are prepared to reveal, the Forum is being exceptionally tight-lipped about its activities. So much so that one of Quebec’s unions was sharply criticized when it distributed information about the Forum’s activities this summer at a truck rally.
“At the Forum they are discussing certain important details and they have a tacit agreement that nothing will get out,” says one source who asked not to be named. “…No one will speak at all ’til everything is tied up. All the parties have to agree what is going to be put in this standard contact. Say, the employee contribution to diesel. What kind of mechanism are they going to come up with?”
The requirement to stick to commercial issues and not to beat the labor drum is spelled out in Bill 135, which became law in June 2000, and probably explains why there is a lid on revealing details of the standard contract discussions. Lessard praises Forum president Paul-Emile Thelland for keeping a commercial focus.
“We always have to remind ourselves of that. So far we’ve done good work,” says Lessard.
What are essentially negotiations between employers and employees could be derailed if one side began crowing publicly about some victory it had gained over the other side in some aspect of the standard contract.
More puzzling, though, is why it is taking the Commission des Transports du Quebec (CTQ) so long to discharge its responsibilities under Bill 135. A key requirement of Bill 135 was to find out how many single-truck operators there are in Quebec and ask them if they do or do not agree with forced union membership.
According to the same unnamed source, the three unions had a massive card signing in May, the intention of which was to let O/Os indicate whether they wanted one union or another.
So even if an O/O already belonged to a union, or was nominally associated to one by having paid five bucks a couple of years back at one of the friendly union membership drives; everyone had to sign another card.
“You had to fill out a new card again saying you wanted to be unionized again,” explains the source.
The cards were sent to the CTQ, says the source, who adds they have no idea what the CTQ has done with them, except that whatever it is doing could take six months.
When asked about this and its other obligations under Bill 135, the CTQ has stated since early spring that certain hearings are not yet complete and therefore they cannot say anything. The O/O head count is critical to establishing the Forum’s legitimacy: First, to be a legitimate representative at the Forum, an organization must have as members, at least 10 per cent of the total number of one-truck owner/operators in the province.
“The Forum has decided to work on a consensus basis rather than a representational basis,” says Lessard.
Will members currently participating in the Forum be so agreeable if they are found to only have 9.5 per cent of the independent trucker pool as members? Time will tell and it hopefully won’t take too much longer. n