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Controversial VanPort licence system won’t be extended; truckers gear down for possible strike

VANCOUVER – An interim licensing scheme that ended a six-week container trucker strike at the Port of Vancouver last year will not be renewed, sparking new threats of another bitter work stoppage by independent operators in the Lower Mainland.

David Emerson, federal Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway, said at a news conference yesterday that an Order In Council -- which last is set to expire this week -- would not be continued. Rather, reports the Vancouver Sun, both the federal and B.C. transport ministries will create a forum of stakeholders charged with resolving the ongoing contract problems between owner-ops and carrier companies working the ports.

Truckers say result of not extending licence program will be 'catastrophic.'

"The bottom line is this port and this gateway are not going to work because the law says it must work," Emerson said. "It's going to work because the different parties that have a stake in the smooth operation in the gateway system want it to work. And that's the purpose of the forum.”

About 200 truckers staged demonstrations in downtown Vancouver yesterday, warning government officials that they would shut down their trucks again if the licence system wasn’t extended.

Otherwise, says Paul Uppal, business manager with the Vancouver Container Truckers' Association and Canadian Auto Workers Local 2006, the response would be “catastrophic."

About 1200 independent truckers staged a wildcat strike last July in protest over low haulage rates and the price of fuel. The drivers finally went back to work when the Vancouver Port Authority stepped in with the backing of Transport Canada and implemented an interim licence provision for all carriers that work the ports. By accepting the licence, carriers would also be required to fork over to contracted truckers increased rates and fuel surcharges laid out in a previous proposal by government mediator Vince Ready.

Since then, about half of those truckers have joined the CAW.

The order keeping the licence provisions in place had been extended a couple times by the former Liberal government. The previous administration and the BC government also set up a task force, which recommended making the licence program permanent.

Another long strike would not bode well for the beleaguered port, which has seen several labour disruptions over the last few years. During the last strike, many big-box businesses didn’t hide their frustration with the port. Other retailers said that, because of the port’s reputation for labour unrest, they would be ready the next time with a contingency plan to divert freight to other ports.

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