Truckers warn against vaccine mandate

by Emily Atkins

By January 15, only fully vaccinated Canadian truck drivers will be permitted to move the $650 billion in trade that crosses the Canada-US border, Ottawa has signaled to supply chain stakeholders.

Washington has made the same decision, with an expected date for enforcement beginning Jan. 22.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has requested both governments consult key members of the supply chain to find a  date for enforcement that would be less disruptive to North American supply chains, which are already struggling to function at normal capacity.

January 15th mandate

“Feedback from CTA members from across the country over the last couple of weeks indicates the Canadian trucking industry is preparing or bracing for these mandates one way or another,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski.

“While there’s reportedly a modest uptick of drivers getting vaccinated at some companies, there are substantial reports of higher-than-normal turnover and others declaring their intention to leave the industry or seek employment in the provincially regulated sector over the impending mandate at the border and the recently announced domestic mandate impacting the federally regulated trucking sector.”

Industry vaccination rates remain reflective of the Canadian national average as well as the regional provincial averages of 83 to 87 percent. The industry is expecting a loss of 12,000-16,000 (10-15 percent) cross-border commercial drivers if the mandate takes effect this month, with higher or lower losses in capacity in certain regions depending on the location of companies.

30,000 drivers at risk

The enforcement of a federal domestic vaccine mandate on drivers could lead to as many as 30,000 Canadian federally regulated drivers exiting the supply chain, CTA estimates.

The pre-existing driver shortage combined with the impending mandates has shippers scrambling for truck capacity. Some of that demand in certain regions or types of sectors simply cannot be met by fleets already struggling to fill seats and who are losing more drivers in reaction to the mandates, CTA suggests.

Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman wrote to Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra on January 5th, warning of supply chain disruptions if a mandate is enforced. “Driver loss will disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable businesses first such as building materials, food for retail sale and grocery warehouses that will see a loss in service levels…These reductions will have a competitive impact on Canada manufacturing, cause challenges for animal welfare from livestock carriers and cause serious challenges to the food supply chain,” the letter said.

Little Omicron impact

Canadian trucking companies report preliminary negligible health and safety impacts on their driver pool as the result of Omicron variant. This is consistent with previous waves of Covid-19 in the trucking industry, which has vaccination rates consistent with national and provincial averages.

CTA believes there are several reasons for low rates of contraction and penetration in the trucking industry, namely that proven health and safety protocols developed by the industry are working well and promoted extensively throughout the supply chain; high national vaccination rates among drivers already in the industry; as well as the self-isolating nature of the commercial driver occupation.

CTA continues to caution the Government of Canada that implementing a domestic mandate on federally regulated carriers and their employees will further exacerbate the driver shortage, disruption to the supply chain and rising costs on consumers.

“CTA strongly believes the health benefits of vaccines are unquestionable. But that does not change the fact that any substantial reduction of commercial drivers, when there’s already an acute shortage, would further disrupt a very fragile supply chain and the economy. Simply put, the supply chain desperately needs more drivers to deliver goods and products that consumers depend on – not less,” Laskowski said.

“We are concerned that this government has no plan to avoid much worse disruption of supply chains,” Lanstman said in the letter. “We are simply asking what is the government’s plan to support the trucking industry? Finally, when will this government take action to protect supply chains and increase their resiliency and stability?”

CTA is calling on the federal government to maintain the position it agreed upon in the summer of 2021 of exempting the trucking industry as an essential service due to the potential consequences to the economy.

At a minimum, Ottawa must exempt commercial truck drivers, mechanics and those who work outdoors from the domestic mandate, CTA says.