Container truck drivers and their supporters

Truckers protest as hundreds shut out of port work

'Winners and losers' become clear as Port Metro Vancouver finalizes plan to tighten container port access

More than 600 container truckers say they’re effectively out of a job because they’ve been barred from loading at Port Metro Vancouver terminals under a new licensing system.

The reforms, devised by the port and the provincial and federal governments, aimed to control the hyper-competitive industry by reducing the number of port access licences.

It’s intended to end rampant undercutting on rates that has been the trigger for labour unrest in the past, including a month-long strike last year.

But there have been casualties and exactly who they are became clear last week.

The survivors announced by Port Metro Vancouver are 68 companies with 1,450 trucks, while several hundred additional trucks with 84 other firms that previously hauled containers in and out of the port are cut out of the new system.

Drivers and other affected workers rallied with their families Saturday in Holland Park in Surrey to protest the changes, which took effect. Feb. 1.

Drivers, in theory, could do “off-dock” work – hauling containers between warehouses that don’t require port access – or switch to different hauling services, but some of those protesting said they doubt there’s enough work to support the trucks now denied port access.

Port officials defended the changes.

Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations, said the industry has been unstable for too long, with drivers having difficulty making a living, adding there’s widespread agreement there were too many licensed trucks and drivers.

“It is unfortunate, and unavoidable, that some will no longer be licensed to access the port, but they are still able to provide driving services that do not require port access,” he said.

There had also been accusations in recent weeks that the minimum rates passed by the province were not in line with the agreement that ended last March’s strike.

The province announced further adjustments to address those concerns last week.

It has also pledged that a container trucking commissioner will review some issues related to trucker pay.

SFU urban studies professor Peter Hall said the process of regulating truckers and reducing the number of licences was always going to “create winners and losers” with real pain for those excluded.

“There is a trade-off,” he said. “We can have a small number of good jobs in cargo movement, or a larger number of bad ones. We can’t have both, and perhaps the real culprits here are those that keep over-claiming what port expansion means for the region.”