Truck drivers were on the front lines of the war to keep the Canadian grain, industrial and commercial systems operating during the first months of COVID-19.
But when they needed momentary respite so they could keep doing their duties, they were often treated like enemies rather than noble warriors.
“Life on the road is challenging at the best of times, and we are not living at the best of times,” Manitoba Trucking Association executive director Terry Shaw told the Fields on Wheels conference, detailing numerous indignities, discrimination and heartless behaviour that truckers faced during the pandemic spring.
“We received regular reports of truck drivers being removed from retail stores and restaurants simply because they had been out of province as essential workers,” said Shaw.
“We received a number of reports of family members of truck drivers being removed from their employment simply because they lived with a truck driver.”
Shaw said truckers had to cope with delivery yards that were closed to them, bathrooms barred to them, restaurants made off-limits to them, and often nowhere to go outside of the cabs of their trucks.
Almost everything became stressful and vexing for drivers, “even something as simple as just getting a break from their truck.”
While some delivery points banned drivers from their washrooms and left it at that, some brought in porta-potties.
Beyond indignities and discomfort, drivers and trucking companies also faced a transportation support system that was having trouble operating in the new environment.
Maintenance shops fell behind because work crews were kept isolated from each other, so they couldn’t switch between jobs.
Overtime for mechanics was ended as employers tried to stop shifts overlapping.
Other facilities had trouble operating. Delivering loads became fraught with uncertainty.
“Normal connections within the supply chain broke down pretty quickly,” said Shaw.
Shaw said it is vital for the federal and provincial governments to be careful with regulations that affect the ability of drivers to operate, and to fix problems that crop up.
“Policymakers need to be very cautious about one-size-fits-all policy as well as understanding policy conflicts,” said Shaw.
“We need our policymakers to adjust problematic policy much more quickly.”
He said bad regulations were often fixed quickly at the beginning of the pandemic.
Regulations required masks to be worn inside workplaces. Briefly, that made it mandatory for truck drivers to wear masks inside their trucks, even when alone.
While not intentional, the regulations were based on workplace safety rules to control dangerous substances like tobacco.
The trucking associations raised their concerns and authorities quickly fixed the situation.
“This positive change shows that the system can respond quickly,” said Shaw.