VANCOUVER — Port Metro Vancouver’s customers are starting to feel the pinch of the ongoing strike by over 1,000 container truckers demanding better wages and shorter wait times at terminals.
“The impact of truckers walking off the job is in the order of about $885 million per week,” said Port Metro Vancouver President and CEO Robin Silvester. “Goods are not moving and that is bad news for consumers and businesses.”
The port’s container truckers make $15.59 an hour, much less than the B.C. average wage for a trucker of $23 an hour, said Unifor, a union that represents 300 truckers.
Silvester commented: “We agree that truckers should be paid a fair wage, but bargaining relating to employment and contract relationships can only be done with the employer or the parties to the contract. Port Metro Vancouver is not the employer and is not party to the contract relationships.”
The strike is stretching into the third week and may go on even longer since there are over 180 different trucking companies operating out of the port, each making separate agreements with hundreds of suppliers and the private operators of each terminal.
Meanwhile, the port’s customers are getting hit with hefty fines and their shipments can’t get past the port’s gates. (The port’s customers are paying $350 per day for storage). And of course Vancouverites may soon see the price of goods go up.
What’s more, local wine merchants and distillers can’t get their goods out of the port and say that unless the strike ends soon, local drinkers will need to find alternative social lubricants, according to Metro.
Some are recalling a similar dispute in 2005, which lasted 47 days.
“If you had a dark container on top of the pile, then a lot of your wine and beer got cooked,” said Robert Simpson, general manager at Liberty Wine Merchants, the largest chain of private wine stores in Western Canada.
Simpson has two containers held up at the port and is considering moving them by rail to a location from where he can then move them by truck to warehouses for inspection, then to stores. Otherwise, he’ll have to place additional orders and get them delivered through ports in the US.
“I am sympathetic with the truckers,” he said. “I know for a fact they spend hours down at the port waiting to get their load. It shouldn’t take half a day to take one container and drive it to Annacis Island, that’s crazy.”
Trucking operations at the port are now about 10 to 20 percent of their usual levels, Peter Xotta, the port’s vice-president of planning and operations told the Globe and Mail. Last Friday, Xotta said container terminals saw trucks handle 700 containers on a day when 3,500 pickups and deliveries would normally have been made.
He also said he has heard of shippers diverting containers that were destined for Vancouver to other ports, but he won’t know how many containers are being diverted until the port collects statistics for the period.
As much as $885-million in cargo passes through the port weekly, half of which is carried by trucks. Port Metro Vancouver was in court Tuesday to request an injunction to forbid independent truckers from protesting on port lands.
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