Canada

B.C. truckers strike may soon end, Ottawa says

The federal industry minister says he hopes a negotiated deal will be reached within days to end a month-long truckers' strike at Vancouver-area ports.

Federal Industry Minister David Emerson says he hopes a negotiated deal will be reached within days to end a month-long truckers' strike at Vancouver-area ports.

Emerson said he was optimistic after speaking with Vince Ready, the facilitator brought in by the provincial and federal governments.

Ready is scheduled to meet Wednesday with both sides – the Vancouver Container Truck Association, which represents the 1,000 mostly independent container-truck drivers who walked off the job on June 25 – and the brokers who hire them.

Emerson said a negotiated solution is the only possible way to settle the dispute, which the Vancouver Board of Trade estimates is costing the provincial economy about $75 million a day in transportation costs alone.

The truckers' main demand is that they be paid more money to cover fuel costs that have more than doubled. They said it costs $350 a day to run a truck, but that they are paid between $300 and $400 a day.

Business leaders have demanded that the federal government legislate the truckers back to work. Emerson, however, dismissed the solution as too simplistic.

"If you're a trucker and you're losing money on every container you're hauling, why would you go back to work?" Emerson said on Wednesday.

"I mean, you're an independent businessperson. What right does government have to say you have to lose money?

"And so you have to precede with any sort of more fundamental fix with a negotiation that ensures that the different parties are basically kept economically whole going forward, or you really have just not solved the problem."

Mediated contract talks broke off earlier in July. If an agreement isn't reached this time, Ottawa will likely face more pressure to step in and force the truckers back to work.

Strike causes hundreds of layoffs

The Vancouver Board of Trade has warned that the shutdown has pushed many businesses – including manufacturing, retail, restaurants and forestry – to the breaking point.

Business leaders warned that the strike, which has had a ripple effect outside of the province, has caused hundreds of layoffs and raised fears that the ports' international reputation could be permanently damaged.

Hundreds of people working in the fishing industry are among the latest victims. Several processing plants in the Lower Mainland have had to lay off employees or reduce their work hours because containers of fish are not being moved.

Among the strike's other effects, thousands of shipping containers are stacking up on Vancouver-area docks and freezer facilities are full.

The backup means many businesses are paying additional storage fees of $100 or more a day.

But the companies charging the extra fees said they're still losing money.

Terminal Systems Incorporated said it usually has fewer than 200 containers sitting on the dock, but now has more than 6,000.

Vice-president Morley Strachan said they make their money by moving the containers, not through storage fees.

Freezer facilities are also backed up, said Steve Quelch, co-owner of Ever-Cold Storage, adding that his company makes money through turnover and was losing tens of thousands of dollars.

While the port remains open, the Vancouver Port Authority has said that about 40 per cent of all container cargo that moves through the port moves by truck. The port also has rail service, which is still moving.

The truckers, who are mostly independent contractors, have called on the federal and provincial governments to lower fuel taxes.

They also complained of low cartage rates and slow service at truck port checkpoints.

Many of them only get paid for what they move and they complain they can wait in line at the docks for as long as five hours at a time.

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