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opinions Rolf Lockwood

Loco Motives

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Rolf Lockwood

Columnists are supposed to wake up in a rage every morning, I heard someone say on CBC radio a couple of weeks ago. Guess I don’t fit the columnist mold. That’s the fate of a pragmatist like me — I see all sides of every argument, being utterly confident that nothing is 100 percent this way or that way. And most of the time it doesn’t matter. We’d all be better off if we could control our indignation impulse.

There are exceptions to the anger thing, however. Like the Lac Megantic rail disaster. I haven’t written a word about it ’til now, wanting to understand things better before I committed words to digital paper. But then I realized I knew more than enough.

I’m angry because it seems clear that the railways get away with murder — speaking metaphorically — in safety terms. The idea that a pretty long train hauling hazardous goods can be managed by one man, with regulatory approval, is itself nuts. The idea that a man can leave such a train sitting on an incline just outside a town — without setting all the brakes! — is even crazier. And the fact that this is apparently standard practice boggles my tiny old mind.

How could anyone with more than three brain cells rubbing together not see the folly in there?

But what angers me most is the comparison I’m compelled to make between truck and rail, between the cavalier way in which train safety is regulated — that is to say, pretty much not at all — and the straitjacket that every jurisdiction from Ottawa down to the smallest village loves to wrap around trucking. No way a railway needs to have a vice president in charge of compliance. He’d be bored stiff.

Can you imagine the brouhaha that would have ensued if a truck had caused such mayhem in Lac Megantic?

But it couldn’t, and there’s the point. The calamity quotient of a train, whether loaded with hazmat material or not, is far, far greater than that of any truck. Sure, trains don’t use public roads, but tell that to the surviving residents of a formerly peaceful little town in Quebec.

People see danger in trucks but they appear to view trains as benign creatures that make noise in the distance. Wrong on both counts.

But let me move on…

Overtime pay for drivers is a subject I raised a little while ago and I feared it might create a hornet’s nest. Maybe it has in some quarters without my knowing it, but on this end the response has been pretty subdued. In fact, this is pretty straightforward.

Among the correspondence I had were notes from senior managers at Erb Transport and Con-Way Freight Canada confirming that I was correct about overtime, and that they routinely make such payments. Specifically, federally regulated carriers are required to pay time-and-a-half for any work (mileage, hourly, etc.) beyond 60 hours. There are calculations that create hour equivalents for per-mile pay schemes.

There is indeed a clause in the Canada Labour Code that makes it very clear. The specific wording goes like this:

“Where the total working hours of an employee described in subsection (1) exceeds 60 hours in any week, all hours worked in excess of 60 shall be counted as overtime.”

You can find that here.

Remember that this only applies to federally regulated carriers; that is, fleets that cross borders, domestic or international.

If you have questions, whether you’re a driver or a manager, call Labour Canada at 1-800-641-4049. There will be more than I can possibly answer here.

AND ONE FINAL NOTE, a sad one for those in the Maritimes who knew Gerald Knol of Shubenacadie in central Nova Scotia. Today’s Trucking reader Gavin Leggate sent me a message saying that Knol, often called the ‘Gentle Giant’, had died of cancer in early August.

I didn’t know Gerald, sad to say, but had heard of him as he was pretty famous in trucking circles down east. The kind of guy I’d like to know. He had been a float driver with the DOT — more formally called the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal — out of the Miller Lake site for years.

“He was a legend in the trucking world around here,” Gavin told me, “known for always getting the toughest of the tough jobs done.”

His most recent big job? He was the driver who delivered the huge Christmas tree to Boston last year, Nova Scotia’s annual way of saying thanks to the American city for all the help they gave following the Halifax explosion so many years ago.

Rest in peace, Gerald.

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