Truckers begin to chip away at container backlog at port of Vancouver

by Canadian Shipper

VANCOUVER, B.C. About half the container truck drivers involved in a strike at Vancouver’s ports may have gone back to work yesterday with more expected to do so today, but it will be anything but business as usual for weeks to come.

It is estimated that it could take up to six weeks to move the 25,000 containers that have been collecting dust during the five-week strike. To start, many of the about a thousand striking owner/operators had suspended their vehicle insurance so it will likely not be till today when most of them will be able to start hauling loads, according to Ken Halliday of the Vancouver Container truck Association. Also some of the owner/operators will need time to have their rigs mechanically tuned since they haven’t driven them for a while.

Cargo did begin trickling out of the jammed Lower Mainland ports yesterday after about half of the 50 companies picking up and delivering containers agreed to abide by the terms of a temporary deal that raises hauling rates by between 40 and 50 per cent. Competition is expected to cause many more trucking companies to sign.

The deal, which includes rate hikes of 40% to 50% to cover soaring fuel costs according to media reports was initially rejected by the companies after it had been worked out with mediator Vince Ready.

The Vancouver Port Authority port then imposed a 90-day licensing system to force companies to agree to Ready’s deal. Under the scheme no one can enter the ports without having signed a licence. The port authority reasoned that the imposed licences are legal because the federal government invoked a section of the Transportation Act which allows it to set prices that could otherwise be challenged under the federal Competition Act.

But there may be legal challenges to come. The imposed wage hikes for truckers have angered some of the companies refusing to sign.

Don Jordan, a Vancouver lawyer who represents five trucking companies, told the Globe and Mail he will be going to court to argue that the Vancouver Port Authority overstepped its authority when it imposed a licence requirement.

Jordan told the Globe and Mail that his clients feel they are being bullied. “The guys who were down there blockading ports and disrupting ports and keeping my clients from exercising their lawful right to drive on the highway are getting everything they want. And the law-abiding citizen is getting a poke in the eye.”

A lawyer representing Pro West Transport, a company which had some of its trucks shot at during the strike, has also informed the media it is considering legal action against the port for trying to regulate hauling rates.

The present agreement will only stand for 90 days during which it is expected that all parties will find a more permanent agreement.

"Though compensation for long waiting times was at the bottom of the whole conflict, many additional demands must still be addressed," the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association commented in its daily bulletin this morning. "Even though there is presently a degree of uniformity about costing and pricing, there are substantial differences in quotes tendered yesterday and we have, as of yet, been unable to get a reliable reading. What is definitely clear, is that the drivers are receiving higher compensation and that likely the owner/broker will have to learn to live with smaller margins. Something that can only be made up through higher efficiencies, shorter turn-around at the terminals etc."

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