Three months after a strike by container truck drivers at Port Metro Vancouver, unionized truckers are again considering whether to withdraw their services amid accusations some companies are refusing to comply with agreed-upon pay rate increases.
Both unionized and non-unionized truckers walked off the job for a month earlier this year over issues including per-trip pay rates, long waits at the port and allegations of industry undercutting. About a month into the job action – which hindered the movement of goods through Canada's largest port and affected the national economy – the truckers reached an agreement with the provincial and federal governments that was outlined in a 15-point joint action plan.
One point was that the federal government would commit to taking "appropriate measures to increase trip rates by 12 per cent" over rates from a 2005 agreement. This was to come into effect on April 3 and apply to both union and non-union truckers, on a round-trip basis, for all moves of full or empty containers.
Gavin McGarrigle, the B.C. area director for Unifor, whose Vancouver Container Truckers Association (VCTA) represents hundreds of unionized truckers, estimated about one-third of trucking companies are not fully complying. Some said they would pay the rate only as of April 27 – 30 days after the truckers returned to work – while others say they will not pay the rate on a round-trip basis, as agreed upon, he said. The union wants these companies to lose their licences.
"There are numerous companies out there that have said they have no intention of paying that," Mr. McGarrigle said. "Our members are getting frustrated, and rightfully so. They went back to work on the promise from both levels of government that these rates would be enacted in the time frame that was set out and that [the governments] would take the necessary steps to make sure that was made legal and binding on the sector."
Unifor-VCTA has been raising the issue for 90 days, and tension is rising, Mr. McGarrigle said. He noted the union remains in a legal strike position, and resuming job action "is definitely one of the options on the table."
He said companies that complied with the rate increase are being undercut by those that can charge lower prices because they did not.
"It's one thing to wait for payment of monies owed; it's another to see your company lose customers, because they're playing by the rules, to someone who's not," he said.
The Ministry of Transportation and Port Metro Vancouver this week jointly launched a new whistle-blower service that truckers can e-mail or call. Issues related to driver remuneration will be investigated by the Container Dispute Resolution Program, and disciplinary measures will be taken where necessary, the port said in a joint statement with Transportation Minister Todd Stone.
"This reporting program provides a mechanism for driver complaints to be dealt with effectively," Mr. Stone said in the statement, "and I'm confident that penalties will be issued accordingly."
Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations for Port Metro Vancouver, said the initiative is "one of many steps being taken as part of the joint action plan to solve long-standing problems in the container trucking sector."
Expedited audits of the trucking companies are also expected in coming weeks.
Manny Dhillon, a spokesman for the United Truckers Association, a non-profit group with unionized and non-unionized members, said the UTA hopes the matter will be quickly resolved. The association will discuss it with its members this weekend.
Meanwhile, other issues in the joint action plan have been addressed. Payments for wait times retroactive to April 3 started going out last week, and GPS technology, used to reduce congestion and waits, has been installed in every licensed container truck.