Trucker strike delays container cargo service, hurts reputation

Back-to-work legislation possible | The labour dispute at Vancouver port is not affecting rail deliveries

There was some improvement in the movement of containerized commodities last week as a trucker strike at Port Metro Vancouver entered its fourth week.

The volume of container truck transactions was nearly 40 percent of normal toward the end of last week, the highest level since the strike began Feb. 26.

According to the port, 30 percent of containers arrive and depart the port by truck, with the remainder by rail.

The rail portion isn’t affected by the strike, so overall the port was operating at about 75 percent of its usual container volumes as of March 20.

There were reports that the B.C. government was expected to introduce back-to-work legislation early this week for the 250 unionized truckers on strike at the port, but it hadn’t done so as of The Western Producer’s publication deadline March 24.

The port began suspending licenses of striking drivers last week, which includes about 1,000 non-unionized truckers.

The port said the strike is disrupting $885 million worth of weekly container cargo.

Gord Bacon, chief executive officer of Pulse Canada, said the combination of back-to-work legislation and the threat of truckers losing their licences should help restore container service at the port.

“We can’t have any of these disruptions without further eroding our checkered reputation as a reliable supplier,” he said.

Customers are growing increasingly frustrated by Canada’s inability to get product to market.

“When I started in the industry 17 years ago, we used to talk about a six-week lead time to get product from prairie position to port and shipped to a market like India,” said Bacon.

“The question now is, is it six months? Is it eight months? What is it?”

Ron Davidson, director of international trade with the Canadian Meat Council, said the strike is disrupting about $29 million of weekly beef and pork exports to Pacific Rim countries.

“It’s a substantive challenge for us,” he said.

Davidson said buyers need to regularly stock their store shelves with meat, so they can’t have intermittent delivery of products.

“If Canada isn’t able to be a reliable supplier that has an impact not only on our current sales but on our sales down the road,” he said.

Bacon said Canada’s unreliable grain transportation system was a hot topic of discussion at the Pulses Conclave 2014 in February, a conference hosted by the India Pulses and Grains Association.

Bacon talked to an importer from eastern India who was told he couldn’t book a vessel from Canada until next year.

Another importer was still waiting for the arrival of product he booked in October, which was posing serious problems because India is set to take off its second pulse harvest of 2013-14, which means buyers may not need his Canadian yellow peas.

“The importance of timing of delivery into a market like India can’t be emphasized enough,” said Bacon.

Indian buyers asked Bacon if the current transportation mess is the new norm for Canada.

“I don’t think this is the kind of business environment that we would accept as being the new norm. We have to work hard to make the system work better,” was his reply.

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