Port negotiations hit rough waters

VANCOUVER — Collective agreements negotiated by the Vancouver Container Truckers Association-CAW Local 2006 (VCTA) expired at the beginning of July and, so far, negotiations of new agreements are not going smoothly.

The VCTA officially opened bargaining on July 22 with more than a dozen separate companies whose operations move containers to and from the various Lower Mainland ports.

"Things are not going very well at all," Gavin McGarrigle, CAW national representative, told local media.

The VCTA represents the largest group of container truck drivers serving Lower Mainland ports in B.C. and the membership is seeking a benchmark agreement for container truck drivers, which says the organization, will promote port stability and put an end to constant under-cutting of owner-operator rates.

Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) saw a massive withdrawal of service by 1,200 owner-operators in 2005 to protest working conditions and rate-cutting. The dispute disrupted port operations and cost the provincial and national economies hundreds of millions of dollars.

As a result, the federal government amended the Port Authorities Operations Regulations to set up a licensing system with benchmark and minimum rates for applicable owner-operators. The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure also set up a program to investigate and make recommendations to PMV to enforce the correct rates. PMV can sanction, suspend, or cancel the licenses of offenders.

B.C. Labour Minister Murray Coell expressed concerns about the lack of timely action on the Ministry of Transportation recommendations in a letter sent to PMV on June 3: "Since December 2007, approximately $645,765 has been collected on behalf of 351 owner-operators."

Minister Coell added: "If actions are not taken on offenders swiftly, I believe the effectiveness of the program will be seriously undermined."

"The ports need to be ordered to do a better and more transparent job of rate enforcement. The port regulations need to be changed to provide for true stability instead of the fake appearance of stability that we are left with today," said McGarrigle.

"If the federal government doesn’t make these changes soon, the bargaining environment will be difficult and the current rate system at the ports could fall apart leading to massive instability – this is an outcome that nobody wants to see, especially our members," McGarrigle added.

So far however, not much progress has been made in negotiating a new agreement for truck drivers. McGarrigle said the union had hoped to negotiate one agreement across the board.

As of last week, he said, the 12 provincial regulators "indicated clearly that they’re not interested in that," and the union had applied for conciliation with the three federal companies.

"The best thing for stability is to operate under one collective agreement," McGarrigle said.

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