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British Columbia Port Metro Vancouver truckers shut out of work with new licensing system

A container truck driver travels through Port Metro Vancouver as another enters Vanterm in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday March 27, 2014.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Hundreds of container truck drivers could soon be without work when a new licensing system rolls out at Port Metro Vancouver. But while the job losses had been anticipated, truckers are taking issue with the way licensees were selected, calling the criteria unfair.

The new Truck Licensing System (TLS), expected to start on Monday, is intended to balance the level of supply trucks and amount of container trucking work available at Metro Vancouver's four terminals. So far, 68 companies have been conditionally approved, for a total of approximately 1,450 trucks – down from about 165 companies and 2,000 trucks, said Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations for Port Metro Vancouver.

Successful applicants had to meet a number of requirements, including having documented compliance with health and safety programs; have at least five trucks; and provide proof of their ability to secure a compliance bond, which starts at $250,000 for up to 20 trucks.

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Mr. Xotta said that, of the nearly 100 companies that will no longer be licensed, the majority either did not meet requirements or did not apply.

"There were 36 companies that were not approved but that likely met the minimum requirements – and those were the most challenging conversations," he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Gavin McGarrigle, B.C. area director for Unifor, said the union is pleased to see a reduction in trucks, as there were too many in the market, but questioned the validity of the selection process.

"The initial concern that we have is, looking at the list, it appears that a fair number of well-known, undercutting companies [those accused of driving down wages] have made the cut," he said.

He noted a company's compliance with a 15-point joint action plan crafted by truckers and the B.C. and Canadian governments – which, among other things, mandated trucking companies pay new agreed-upon rates starting last April – was not one of the criteria considered. Other considerations left out include the average length of service that a company, or individual drivers, had served the port, he said.

"Port Metro Vancouver has come up with a set of criteria that they are applying to who gets in and who's out," he said. "I think anyone that sits down with anyone to play a game, where the other person has invented the game and designed the rules, would recognize that that's not a fair game."

Mr. Xotta said the criteria were established in consultation with drivers, companies, terminals, government and other stakeholders. Two rounds of consultation took place last year.

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Independent owner-operators who did not make the cut can apply for a "transition program" that offers a funding package of up to $15,000. Those who choose to leave the industry can also seek assistance from Port Metro Vancouver in either selling or scrapping their trucks. Truckers require a TLS licence to access port facilities, but are free to work in other trucking-related jobs without one.

Last year, both unionized and non-unionized truckers walked off the job for one month over issues including per-trip pay rates, long waiting times at the port and the allegations of industry undercutting. The job action ended 28 days later with the creation of the joint action plan.

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