This past spring about 1,300 union and non-union container truckers withdrew their services at British Columbia’s biggest port, in Vancouver, complaining of long wait times to pick up and drop off containers and the undercutting of rates. The 28-day strike was resolved at the end of March but it took almost six weeks to resolve the backlog of undelivered goods which had piled up around the port.
Unionized truckers had warned over the summer another strike was possible if the province failed to take action. The issue was eventually resolved, with truck drivers earning a 12 per cent hike in round-trip rates and a minimum hourly rate.
Last week Port Metro Vancouver announced a round of consultations to finalize details of a new container truck licensing system in order to deal with an oversupply of trucks serving the port. The port said in a press release the new licensing system will address some of the ongoing issues.
It reached this conclusion after detailed analysis of GPS data from the 2,000 trucks registered to serve the port. The port said the goal of the new licensing system is to “balance the number of registered trucks with the amount of available work and bring stability to port operations.”
The port plans to reduce the number of trucks it allows to haul containers in and out of the port by 25 to 40 per cent, from about 2,000 licensed trucks in the system to between 1,200 and 1,500.
At the heart of the dispute was the undercutting of standardized per-delivery rates and thin profits for owner-operator drivers, as well as long waiting times to pick up or drop off containers at terminals.
The hope is that reducing the number of trucks will help to improve the efficiency of trips and maximize the benefits of a reservation system.
Truck Licensing Rules
The port says it will set new criteria for licensing and everyone will have to re-apply. It says it will also establish a program to ease the transition by assisting owner-operators who do not meet the new system’s entry requirements.
“There is clearly an oversupply of trucks and companies servicing the port,” said federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.
Raitt said that — based on recommendations made by mediator Vince Ready and labour relations adviser Corinn Bell, as well as further consultations in the next few weeks — there will be new applications for truck licenses and different standards to meet.
In their report following this summer’s labour resolution, Ready and Bell cited low barriers to entry for the oversupply in trucks and suggest solutions such as security deposits, performance bonds, and service-level agreements. Other requirements could include mandatory GPS units, as well as age and environmental specifications for trucks.
Licensing fees from the new program will fund the setting up of an independent, provincial commissioner’s office to oversee the container trucking industry, said BC Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Todd Stone.
This will come along with legislation in autumn to retroactively enforce rate regulation, strengthen audits, and co-ordinate with whistleblowers to encourage better compliance across an industry that is highly fragmented with, by some estimates, 150 different companies and 800 owner-operators that run 2,000 trucks.
In a demonstration of speed not often seen with governments, the province of British Columbia Thursday introduced legislation aimed at stabilizing the turbulent container trucking business and avoid a repeat of last spring’s strike.
Changing the way the port issues truck licenses is part of a new plan released Wednesday to take on issues that brought it — and the moving of billions of dollars in goods — to a near halt for about four weeks last March.
The legislation extends minimum rates to more of the container truck fleet, plugging holes left by a previous failed federal attempt at rate regulation.
The new system is expected to make it more difficult and costlier to be in port trucking, spurring some of the less responsible firms to move on to other lines of work.
Past efforts to regulate rates only applied to about 20 per cent of the region’s container trucks and they didn’t apply at all to so-called “off-dock” rates for moving containers between various warehouses.
As a result, some drivers were paid the regulated $100 a trip to pick up from a port terminal, but only $15 for off-dock hauling of containers between other sites. The provincial law will require trucking firms that serve the port terminals to also pay regulated rates to drivers for the off-dock trips.
The government says the legislation would provide the tools needed to stabilize the port’s container trucking sector with accountability for companies and a consistent working environment for truckers.
Louise Yako, president of the BC Trucking Association, said that with the cost of a license already at $300 a year, new stipulations could see some truck license-holders pull out voluntarily. She added, however, that some companies have multiple licenses merely for flexibility, mitigating the impact of what may appear to be a steep drop in the number of truck licenses that will be issued.
Unions and groups representing truckers will meet with Ready and Bell on Thursday to comb further through recommendations.
Port Metro Vancouver hopes to implement the new licensing system by February 2015. There is still one more round of consultation, and a transition program to help truck operators who do not meet the new requirements.
Elsewhere, Port Metro Vancouver’s top executive called on a Richmond Chamber of Commerce crowd Tuesday to consider the impact a restricted industrial land base would have on the economy.
Speaking at a business luncheon held at Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, port president and CEO Robin Silvester said demand for trade with Canada is growing—and showing no signs of slowing down.
The port already operates on approximately 500 hectares of land in Richmond, BC—with port and port-related businesses sustaining 5,200 jobs—but Silvester said forecasts suggest industrial land in the Lower Mainland could be exhausted by 2020. He noted 320 hectares of industrial land in Richmond has been lost in recent decades to residential and commercial zoning.
“Land is a finite resource,” he said. “We have to encourage a regional approach to protect industrial land.”