Workers protesting pay and service levels
The United Truckers Association of British Columbia (UTA), a non-profit group representing union and non-union drivers, said many of its 1,400 drivers will walk off the job on Wednesday, disrupting the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods and commodities through Western Canada.
Spokesman Manny Dosange told Reuters the group has been trying for months to get the Port Metro Vancouver and its terminal operators to sit down with them to find a solution to concerns over long wait times, penalty policies and low rates.
"It's not like we want a big paycheck or to get paid out," Dosange said. "All we're asking is to bring those container prices up to a level where it's on par with the economy today and, after that, we're looking for better service."
Dosange said container truckers used to make up to six trips a day, hauling goods to and from the port, but a backlog now has them waiting in line for hours on end to load and unload their cargo. Many drivers now make just two trips a day.
"We're at the point where we're sitting in line, blowing money for diesel," said Dosange, adding that drivers are paid on a per-container basis. "If the trucks aren't moving, we aren't making money."
He blamed the backlog on cutbacks at the Vancouver ports, including reduced operating hours and staffing inefficiencies.
The group is also upset about penalties drivers face for late or missed pick-ups, and said shipping rates have not gone up since 2005, despite higher fuel costs and living expenses.
In a statement on Tuesday, Port Metro Vancouver blamed the backlogs on extreme weather and said it is working on infrastructure and organizational actions to boost efficiency. It also said compensation was a matter between the drivers and the companies that hire them.
Business is booming at the port, which handled a record 135 million tonnes of cargo in 2013 and foresees another strong year in 2014 as trade with Asian markets continues to surge.