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Why the Ontario Trucking Association wants foreign workers to fill trucker shortage

The Ontario Trucking Association says there's a desperate shortage of truckers in Ontario and they have a solution. They want to bring in more foreign workers to do the job because companies can't find enough people in Ontario.

Union says the idea is 'an attack on Canadian workers and the middle class'

The Ontario Trucking Association says there's a desperate shortage of truckers in Ontario and they have a solution. They want to bring in more foreign workers to do the job because companies can't find enough people in Ontario. 7:22

The Ontario Trucking Association says there's a desperate shortage of truckers in Ontario and they have a solution: bring in foreign workers.

The association says it wants to bring in more foreign workers to do the job because long-haul trucking is a job people in Ontario don't want.

The country's largest transportation union, Teamsters Canada, says that's a bad plan and the trucking companies should be focusing on improving working conditions and wages, which they say "have remained stagnant for close to 35 years."

"This is nothing short of an attack on Canadian workers and the middle class," said François Laporte, president of Teamsters Canada. "Instead of trying to suppress wage growth, the Ontario Trucking Association should be looking at ways to give truckers a big raise."

Steve Laskowski, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about why the industry wants more foreign workers. 

You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above. 

Steve Laskowski, Ontario Trucking Association
Steve Laskowski is president of the Ontario Trucking Association. (Ontario Trucking Association)

Why are you having such a hard time filling trucking jobs?

One reason is that we have the oldest demographic — over 55 — versus other sectors of the economy. Secondly, the Ontario economy and the Canadian economy moves by truck. In 2018 we had quite the robust economy, both in the United States and Canada. Combine those factors and we reach a point where we have a significant driver shortage in the province of Ontario. 

This is nothing short of an attack on Canadian workers and the middle class.- François Laporte, President of Teamsters Canada

Why are you advocating for foreign workers to fill these spots?

It's one piece of the puzzle. It's not the exclusive solution. It starts at home attracting Canadians looking for a great career. We're competing with other sectors of the economy as well. We're handcuffed. Other sectors of the economy can attract the nearly 300,000 new Canadians that come to this country each year. We can't. For whatever reason the immigration lense has deemed: truck driving — unskilled. We don't agree with that. We think that most people understand and respect that driving a heavy truck on public roads is a very skilled profession. 

What we're saying to government is let's set aside a small percentage of those 300,000 people who come from other countries and let's identify some of them as long haul, experienced, professional drivers. Then, when they arrive in Canada let's match them with a trusted employer model, meaning that companies with the highest training standard and labour practices would be able to recruit these people to their companies. Then they would go through the mandatory entry level training program, then they would go through the trusted employer model finishing program that would put safe drivers on the road and help the economy grow. 

We're asking to have a level playing field with other sectors. We go beyond other sectors by saying the government should vette the companies that participate in this program to ensure we have the highest safety and labour standards.

Why doesn't the trucking industry just pay drivers more to attract new workers already in the province instead of relying on immigration?

We are paying drivers more. In 2018 you would see a number of companies make announcements about increases in driver wages to attract and to keep people. Is pay part of the solution? Yes. But we're already one of the highest paid jobs in the market. A long haul truck driver can make $70,000 to $80,000 plus. Right now we are a highly paid wage. The issue is more about attracting young people to an occupation that requires you to travel away from home. Our largest trading partner in Ontario, after Michigan, are states like California and Texas. That's long-haul trucking. That's a challenge for some people entering our industry for the first time. Some companies are trying modified work schedules and other approaches to attract people.   

We think that most people understand and respect that driving a heavy truck on public roads is a very skilled profession. - Steve Laskowski, president of the Ontario Trucking Association

How does the shortage in Ontario compare to the rest of the country?

The issue is coast-to-coast and intensifies in urban markets where there's more competition for labour. 

What can be done to attract more young drivers to the industry?

We are working with partners who are doing research to find out different ways to attract millenials to our sector. That's an ongoing project. We're looking for companies to treat drivers with the highest level of respect possible so we have no issues recruiting people to our sector.  

What would you say to a young person about why he or she should consider a career in trucking?

Opportunity. Endless opportunity. You may start as a truck driver and you may have a passion for it that lasts a lifetime. Many do. Some occupy the occupation of truck driver for 25 to 30 years. Many start as a truck driver then work their way into the office and into management positions. In a lot of cases the owners of trucking companies start as drivers. There's opportunity from office to management to truck driving to ownership.   

About the Author

Conrad Collaco is a CBC News producer for CBC Hamilton with extensive experience in online, television and radio news. Follow him on Twitter at @ConradCollaco, or email him at conrad.collaco@cbc.ca.

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