After a day of tense negotiations under threat of a back-to-work order, Premier Christy Clark signed a settlement with union and non-union truckers to end the strike that has snarled shipping at the Port Metro Vancouver for almost a month.
Flanked by a dozen representatives for the truckers, Ms. Clark told a news conference, "This agreement means the port is open again for business. We had to sit down and look at each other in the eyes and realize we weren't that far apart."
Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, said he had intended to defy the government's back-to-work law that was to be passed by Thursday. Instead, the final sticking points on waiting times and money issues were settled. "We have come a long way in six or seven hours." Mr. Dias thanked the Premier for breaking the impasse. "If we were waiting for the feds to find a solution, the port would still be closed tomorrow."
The truckers now have a tentative deal and will be back on the job on Thursday.
Mediator Vince Ready will now sit down to finalize the details. Mr. Ready will have 90 days to work out the details, but the "action plan" signed on Wednesday evening in a legislature meeting room includes:
Port Metro Vancouver will rescind licence suspensions, provided no criminal charges have been laid, as soon as the truckers return to work.
The federal government will "take appropriate measures" to increase trip rates by 12 per cent over the current rates, which were established by Mr. Ready during mediation in 2006. As well, the fuel surcharge is increased to 14 per cent.
There will be a minimum rate for all hourly drivers.
Ms. Clark, who was greeted with applause from the truckers when she arrived to sign the pact, said she was pleased to stand down on her government's back-to-work legislation. "You shouldn't have to fight if you can get a deal," she said.
Issues in the dispute include pay, rates, unpaid time spent in the port waiting for cargo and allegations of undercutting within the industry.
The port dispute escalated significantly on March 10, pinching operations at Canada's largest port when 250 unionized truckers joined non-union truckers in a protest of working conditions that slowed port operations.
For the past month, truckers entangled billions of dollars in cargo during the strike.
Port Metro Vancouver issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, before the deal was announced, hailing the 14-point plan as the best way to end the dispute. "There are financial wins in the plan for truckers," port CEO Robin Silvester said in the statement. "It is in all of our best interests that truckers come out of this dispute with their issues resolved because disruptions like this hurt each of us and Canada's international trade reputation deeply."
The strike was deemed a government priority because of the economic impact. About 100,000 jobs depend on the port, which handles $126-million in cargo daily.
On Monday, the B.C government introduced Bill 25: The Port Metro Vancouver Container Trucking Services Continuation Act, which imposed a 90-day cooling-off period for members of Unifor, the unionized drivers on strike alongside non-unionized, independent truckers.
It ordered Unifor members to terminate their strike and directed employers to not lock out employees. Both union and employers faced fines of up to $10,000 for violating terms of the law. Individual truckers faced fines of up to $400 per day.
Trucks account for about half the traffic in and out of the port. The other half moves by rail.
With files from The Canadian Press