OTTAWA, Ont. - There's much ballyhoo over whether Canadian carriers should be recruiting drivers from overseas.Some call the provincial nominee programs, created by some provincial governments to allow Canadian companies to hire foreign...
OTTAWA, Ont. – There’s much ballyhoo over whether Canadian carriers should be recruiting drivers from overseas. Some call the provincial nominee programs, created by some provincial governments to allow Canadian companies to hire foreign workers, a raw deal. Others say it’s the only way carriers can find qualified drivers. And according to others, the truth lies somewhere in between.
British Columbia-based owner/operator Larry Hall made his feelings known recently in a letter to the B.C. government, detailing why the program’s pilot project to hire foreign truckers, under review at the time of this printing, exploits those truckers thereby driving Canadian wages down. He said the province is painting too rosy a picture of truck driver earnings.
“Dear Minister Cadieux,” the letter reads. “The numbers presented (in the government’s report)…$48,373.89 for a PNP ‘Long Distance Truck Driver’ are misleading simply because there is no consideration of ‘time spent at work’ provided to temper these annual outcomes…Based on our knowledge and experience of 30 years in the transportation industry…the long distance trucking industry has a work week that consists of 70 hours (without any overtime pay).”
Hall goes on to point out truck drivers have to cover the cost of eating on the road, showers, and long distance phone calls, thereby affecting the total amount of their taxable income. He also points to the fact that most drivers don’t get paid overtime. In other words, drivers under the PNP program are actually making a lot less than $48,000.
“The requirement is that truck drivers brought in under the program be paid competitively with the market, but that’s just not the case,” Hall said in a phone interview with Truck News. “So we want the government to establish the competitive rate of pay in accordance with the reality of trucking long distance, and update and publish it annually on the program Web site.”
“Failing this,” wrote Hall in his letter to B.C. Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government, Stephanie Cadieux, ” the North American Truckers Guild feels that truck drivers should not permanently added to the Provincial Nominee Program.”
Hall, head of the North American Truckers Guild (www.thetruckersguild.com), an organization he founded in 2008, says foreign truckers are being exploited under the provincial program and not just in B.C.
“I don’t have an objection to immigration,” says Hall, “but I do think there should be more scrutiny of this program – not only what people are being paid but who are they bringing in? What about safety? How are companies verifying the work experience of these foreign drivers? I would like some factual data. According to some guys I’ve talked to – two drivers who came here from the UK were told one thing by recruiters and experienced something completely different when they got here.”
Data such as that requested by Hall is so far unavailable to the public. Calls from Truck News to the B.C. government, the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council and the Canadian Trucking Alliance turned up nothing to indicate Hall’s allegations are either true or false. Indeed, agencies and individuals refused to comment on the matter.
But Truck News did turn up one PNP trucker, namely U.K. expat Mark Lee (currently happily employed by Paul Brandt Trucking), who admitted to being disappointed with his first Canadian trucking experience after being recruited from overseas. Lee came to Canada with another trucking company in May 2008, after having been recruited overseas by a company under another foreign worker program. He left that company within months, after applying for a job at Manitoba-based Paul Brandt Trucking and being accepted under the provincial nominee program.
“I’ve been with Paul Brandt under the PNP for a year now and I couldn’t be happier,” says Lee. “As far as the program goes, I have no problem with it. It’s the way some companies use it that I have a problem with.”
Lee says there was a marked difference between what he was promised by recruiters in the U.K. and what he got when he arrived in Canada.
“I didn’t nearly get the number of hours I was supposed to get,” says Lee. “But I had to sign a two-year contract for them to bring me over.”
Lee ended up breaking the contract to work for his current employer, but wasn’t forced to repay the “training” fee despite that being part of the contract.
“Most drivers who drop out early to leave and go to work for someone else usually have to pay back their training costs but I’m guessing I wasn’t because I was writing a blog for a trucking magazine overseas (see his new blog at www.brandttruck.com) and the company was still recruiting there, not to mention I didn’t need any training, because I had more experience than the guy who was training me,” Lee says. He adds he’s met several U.K. truckers who were disappointed in the program, “but then there are also some who are still with the company I came over with.”
Lee points out many recruits are frustrated by a dearth of driving hours and wait times between loads while on the road, something they haven’t experienced in Europe, where border crossings are less complicated and cabotage rules, such as the rule forbidding Canadian drivers from moving loads within the US, don’t apply.
Matching expectations Indeed, a failure to match expectations with reality is what appears to be at the crux of PNP recruitment problems. Yanke vice-president of road services Bryan Richards says his company, based in Saskatchewan, invests heavily in making sure drivers brought in under the PNP program are ready and willing to work. He says Yanke spends up to $10,000 to get a single foreign driver onto Canadian roads.
He also says the company has learned a thing or two about matching reality to expectations since it began recruiting overseas in 2003.
“With the provincial nominee program, one of our biggest challenges has been turnover,” says Richards. “And what we’ve found is that some drivers are only interested in using the program to get into Canada and have the possibility of getting residency. They don’t really intend to keep working for us or even to continue trucking. What we’ve also learned is that drivers from the Ukraine are more suitable for Canadian roads – they have more experience of ice and snow than drivers from Ireland or England,” Richards adds.
Candidates are recruited in the Ukraine based on their previous trucking experience, then receive English language training there, the cost of which is covered by Yanke, for up to eight months, says Richards. At that point recruits are tested to see if they are competent to cross the Canada-US border using English. If they are, they are signed to a two-year contract with Yanke and flown to Canada along with their families.
“We train them for another three to four weeks here,” says Richards, adding the whole process can take up to 10 months for a single driver. “That’s why we aim to recruit 30 to 40 drivers per three-month period.”
Richards admits retention of recruits is an issue. “But we see what we’re doing as increasing the net pool of drivers overall.” And he says he expects the looming driver shortage will only increase the number of drivers being recruited under the PNP. As to whether carriers should just hire Canadians, Richards says they would if they could.
“There just aren’t enough domestic operators,” says Richards. “Believe me, we would hire them if there were. Recruiting overseas is a huge investment. But we can’t find them. There just aren’t that many young drivers here willing to do long-haul or run team. And we need drivers who already have experience.”
Richards says the shortage is what’s going to drive wages up in the long run.
“Believe me, we would love to pay more. But our customers have to understand that and pay us more, so we can pay more,” says Richards. “And as far as quality of life and costs incurr
ed by wait times south of the border for loads go, if the cabotage rules change, we won’t have to ask drivers to wait anymore.”