The provincial government will legislate an end to the strike by 250 unionized container port truckers and Port Metro Vancouver is threatening to freeze out other non-union drivers who don’t return to work immediately.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Wednesday the province will introduce back-to-work legislation as early as Monday, with a 90-day cooling off period, targeting the drivers represented by Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers Association.
More than 1,000 non-union independent owner operators with the United Trucking Association who have also withdrawn service aren’t affected by the threatened legislation.
But Port Metro Vancouver said it’s switching to a new port access system and will deny new licences to non-union drivers who don’t resume deliveries as well.
“We expect everyone with a licence or permit to be at work tomorrow,” port CEO Robin Silvester said. “I cannot imagine why we would issue future licenses or permits under the new licensing system to truck drivers who are not at work tomorrow.”
He said 100 to 150 licences expire over the next six weeks and those drivers are being told they won’t be renewed.
Stone and federal transport minister Lisa Raitt said it’s been a week since they tabled a joint 14-point action plan to address truckers concerns, which centre on unpaid wait times at port terminals and rate undercutting within the industry.
The port strike has crippled most of the usual flow of containers by truck through Metro Vancouver and has begun to trigger layoffs in industries across the province.
UTA drivers were first to halt work on Feb. 26 and unionized Unifor drivers have been on strike since March 10.
Both organized groups of drivers last weekend refused to return to work without further negotiations on the government proposals.
Unifor-VCTA president Paul Johal said resorting to legislation that strips workers of their bargaining rights will backfire on the governments, adding a negotiated settlement is the only sustainable solution.
“The minister can’t expect to stick his head in the sand and make this go away,” Johal said.
UTA spokesman Manny Dosanje also predicted a forced return to work will fail.
“Where are they going to find 1,400 or 1,600 drivers?” he asked.
Dosanje said some trucking firms are trying to recruit foreign drivers to move into the container hauling business.
“I don’t know if they’re trying to intimidate us or scare us,” Dosanje said. “If they bring in immigrant drivers we’ll end up in the same spot as we are a few months down the road.”
B.C. Trucking Association president Louise Yako said she’s unaware of any recruitment of foreign drivers, but said firms that don’t normally haul containers have begun to do so – with new permits issued by the port – in order to serve their customers.
She said the number of containers being hauled to and from port terminals has been on the upswing because of the new entrants as well as the return to work of some drivers who had either been striking or had been intimidated from working.
Container truck shipments ran at between 10 and 25 per cent of normal levels last week.
But Yako said that has climbed to around 35 per cent so far this week.
About 2,000 port-licensed trucks move containers from the four terminals around the Lower Mainland.
Yako said she needs more details on the planned reform of the port licence system and licence terminations to assess the effect.
“It’s not over,” she said. “Primarily because it’s clear this licence reform is going to be very significant. It will be very important to get that reform right.”
The federal-provincial plan would require a 10 per cent jump in rates paid for each container moved, as well as a review of other hourly wages and fuel surcharges with changes to kick in by mid-2015.
Terminals will also have to pay truckers $25 per container when they wait more than two hours to load.
It also pledges extended loading hours at terminals and other measures to tighten compliance with rates.
The strike is blocking the normal trade route for almost $900 million worth of cargo per week.