(Adds comment from union, details on talks)
By Julie Gordon
VANCOUVER, March 14 (Reuters) - Representatives of unionized and nonunionized container truck drivers at Port Metro Vancouver were set to meet with government and port officials on Friday to discuss a plan designed to end a 14-day strike at Canada’s largest port.
The plan, revealed late on Thursday by the Canadian and British Columbia governments and the port authority, sets out to address the concerns of the striking drivers on fair pay, reduced wait times at container facilities and the creation of an industry oversight committee.
It also called for the striking drivers to return to work immediately, ending the more than two-week job action that has crippled operations and delayed the transport of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods.
“We have a lot of questions about this document to be answered,” said Gavin McGarrigle of Unifor, the union that represents about 400 container truck drivers. “We also note there are some glaring holes in the document.”
McGarrigle said the union leadership expected to meet with the government and port representatives later on Friday to review the 14-point plan. The United Trucking Association, which speaks for the independent drivers, will also be in the talks.
Hundreds of nonunionized drivers parked their rigs on Feb. 26 in protest over services and pay at the city’s port facilities. Unionized workers voted to join the strike just days later and officially walked off the job early this week.
The work action has crippled operations at Port Metro Vancouver’s container terminals, slowing the transport of commodities such as lumber, pulp products and specialized grains, along with household goods and construction materials.
TSI Terminals Systems Inc, which operates two of the four container terminals at Port Metro Vancouver, declared force majeure on Friday, due to the backlog of import containers at its terminals.
It said the action applied only to import cargo in containers destined for local delivery, and that it would continue service for containers moving by rail.
Rising Asian demand for Canadian products has led to a boom at Port Metro Vancouver, which handled a record 135 million tonnes of cargo in 2013, including about 25 million tonnes of containerized material. It is Canada’s largest and busiest port.
But the drivers say they are frustrated over increased wait times at the container terminals, which cut into their profits. They are paid by the load and do not make money while sitting in line waiting to load or unload cargo.
They are also demanding regulated and enforced pay rates, to help prevent trucking companies from undercutting one another.
Under the 14-point action plan, the Canadian government committed to “adjust the regulated trip rates within one month by 10 percent” and to expedite a review of current wage and fuel surcharge rates, with changes to be put in place by mid-2015.
On wait times, Port Metro Vancouver promised to extend operating hours, along with other operational changes, to help increase efficiency at the city’s terminal facilities.
The plan also calls for the development of a steering committee to monitor the progress of the reforms, with its membership to include representatives of unionized and nonunionized drivers, the port and both levels of government.
Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said the plan should pave the way for workers to get back to work immediately.
“I have asked Port Metro Vancouver to implement the agreed upon action plan. It is time to get the port working once again and we expect the trucking industry to do their part and immediately return to work,” she said in a statement late on Thursday.
The action plan, to be implemented by mid-June, comes after months of failed talks between the various parties. The strike is the third in 15 years at the port, including a six-week action in 2005 over similar issues. (Additional reporting by Solarina Ho in Toronto; editing by Catherine Evans; and Peter Galloway)