COVID-19 vaccine mandate, ongoing labour shortages challenging for Manitoba trucking industry

Semi-trailers owned by a Manitoba-based trucking company are sitting idle on Saturday as about 10 per cent of the workforce is unable to cross the border due to new vaccine requirements.

10-15 % of Manitoba truck drivers not vaccinated, Manitoba Trucking Association says

Truck drivers who cross the border now have to be fully vaccinated. Bison Transport and other organizations estimate about 10 per cent of the workforce is affected. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Semi-trailers owned by a Manitoba-based trucking company are sitting idle on Saturday as about 10 per cent of the workforce is unable to cross the border due to new vaccine requirements.

As of Saturday, all Canadian truck drivers returning from the U.S. must have at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, otherwise they would have to quarantine for two weeks, the federal government said Thursday.

That means nearly 10 per cent of the drivers who work at Bison Transport out of Winnipeg are not able to do their jobs.

"This has added substantial costs to our operation, as we have idle trucks and trailers that still need to be paid for," said president and CEO Rob Penner in an email to CBC News.

"We have also had to significantly increase cross-border driver pay in an effort to [entice] those who have not yet been vaccinated and in order to keep those who have from leaving for other opportunities."

This is the case across Canada, where there are between 10 and 15 per cent of drivers who have chosen not to be vaccinated, said Aaron Dolyniuk, the acting executive director at the Manitoba Trucking Association, which serves as an advocate for those working in the industry.

WATCH | Ottawa mandates vaccines for cross-border truck drivers:

Cross-border truckers must be vaccinated, Ottawa says

1 year ago
Duration 2:00
The federal government says all truck drivers crossing into Canada must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, regardless of nationality, effective Saturday. Trucking associations on both sides of the border say that policy could hurt already strained supply chains by taking even more drivers out of circulation.

A potential loss of labour will make it worse for an already strained industry struggling with staffing challenges, he said.

Manitoba labour market information says 1,000 new truck drivers need be trained every year for the next five years to keep up with demand.

"According to our math, that's one new truck driver every eight hours, potentially. And I don't believe we're keeping up with that. So couple that with potential loss of our labour, there's going to be a shortage of trucks available to run cross-border," Dolyniuk said.

Supply chain issues

Although the staffing shortage will affect people like Penner and those he manages, it will also likely affect the average Canadian as well.

Rick Reid, the executive director of Supply Chain Canada's Manitoba and Northern Territories institutes, says the uncertainty and confusion over the last few months have impacted cross-border transportation greatly.

Reid says supply chains rely on consistency and predictability. 

"As soon as you start taking that away that's when things start to break down and that's a lot of what COVID has made worse over the last 18 months is that predictability and that consistency that you need to have a supply chain work," he said.

A lack of drivers to make the supply chain work could also drive up costs at gas pumps, in the grocery line and for take out orders, he said.

"If you have a shortage of drivers then it makes it harder to move goods across the border which again adds to the scarcity and the shortages that will drive up prices and frustration for consumers."


  • A previous version of the story stated all truck drivers going into the U.S. needed to be vaccinated. In fact, the Canadian rules as of Jan. 15 relate to Canadian truckers returning from the U.S.
    Jan 17, 2022 2:46 PM CT

With files from Talia Ricci