| VANCOUVER, March 19
VANCOUVER, March 19 The British Columbia
government is preparing legislation to force striking container
truck drivers to return to work at Port Metro Vancouver, in an
effort to end a three-week strike that has crippled operations
at Canada's largest port.
The province said on Wednesday that it intends to introduce
the legislation, which would only affect unionized drivers at
the city's port facilities, as soon as Monday.
In a coordinated move, Port Metro Vancouver said it would
begin planned reforms of its container truck licensing system
and would move to cancel the licenses of non-unionized truckers
who do not immediately return to work.
"These actions are necessary and are required today to
protect the economy, protect jobs for British Columbians and
Canadians, and keep goods and services moving across the
country," the port and government said in a joint statement.
But Unifor, the union that represents many drivers at Port
Metro Vancouver, said back-to-work legislation will only make
matters worse in the long-running dispute and that all parties
should return to the table to negotiate a solution.
"Stripping workers of their right to negotiate fair working
conditions is not leadership," said Jerry Dias, Unifor's
national president, in a statement. "We're actively seeking a
resolution that works for everyone, but that can't be done if
the minister doesn't take workers' rights seriously."
The move toward legislating the drivers back to work comes
after a 14-point action plan announced last week failed to end
the strike, which has delayed the transport of hundreds of
millions of dollars worth of goods.
The province, federal government and port say their plan
addresses driver concerns by ensuring fair pay, reduced wait
times and the creation of an industry oversight committee, but
the drivers say they have questions and concerns that have not
yet been answered.
"We're close to going back to work here, but we want some
surety that the wait times are going to be addressed," said
Manny Dosange of the United Truckers Association, a non-profit
group that speaks for many of the non-union drivers.
For independent drivers, long waits at port facilities while
cargoes are loaded and unloaded make it nearly impossible to run
enough loads in a day to turn a profit, he said.
Hundreds of non-unionized drivers parked their rigs on Feb.
26 in protest over increased wait times at Vancouver's container
terminals, which cut into their profits. They are paid by the
haul and do not make money while waiting in line to load or
Unionized workers voted to join the strike just days later
and officially walked off the job early last week. Both groups
are also demanding enforced pay rates, to help prevent trucking
companies from undercutting one another.
The work action has paralyzed operations at Port Metro
Vancouver's four container terminals, slowing the transport of
commodities such as lumber, pulp products and specialized
grains, along with household goods and construction materials.
This comes as rising Asian demand for Canadian products has
led to a boom at Canada's largest and busiest port, which
handled a record 135 million tonnes of cargo in 2013, including
about 25 million tonnes of containerized material.
There are some 2,000 container trucks licensed to operate in
the Vancouver area. Unifor, Canada's largest private sector
union, has said it represents up to 400 drivers, depending on
the season, though the port put that number at about 250.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)