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Review aims to quell Canada port row

Mar 06, 2014 | 07:08 PM |

Tags  scrap, Canada, labor dispute, Robin Silvester, Port Metro Vancouver, Lisa Raitt, exports, independent review Sean Davidson

NEW YORK — Canadian authorities hope that an independent review will resolve labor issues that shut down activity at Port Metro Vancouver a week ago—including scrap exports—and restore shipments at the country’s largest port.

Port Metro Vancouver said it expects Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt’s appointment of Vince Ready to conduct an independent review will serve as a catalyst to bring back truck fleets that came to a complete halt Feb. 26.

Authorities acknowledged that port operations have been severely impacted by truckers protesting about wages, working conditions and wait times at port terminals.

However, Port Metro Vancouver president and chief executive officer Robin Silvester said in a statement March 6 that the port is "optimistic the initiation of this review will accelerate the process of reaching solutions to address systemic problems that have plagued this industry for many years."

There have been no scrap exports out of the British Columbia port since Feb. 26 and it could take weeks before backlogs are cleared, market participants said.

"This is due to a labor dispute between transport companies providing container-drayage service to and from the port and their drivers. Protestors are picketing and blockading port facilities, and no trucks are being allowed to enter the port to either withdraw or return containers," one exporter said. "There have been violent actions against truckers that have tried to enter the port. As a result, no containerized ocean freight is able to move into or out of Vancouver until this dispute is resolved. Steamship lines have been making decisions to divert vessels away from Vancouver, exercising force majeure."

Some scrap exporters said they would look to Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., as possible alternate ports to honor customer commitments despite the significantly higher costs involved in rerouting the material.

"We are currently looking at shipping nonferrous scrap containers through the port of Seattle or Tacoma in order to fulfill outstanding contracts—but this is a very expensive option and has limited capacity, so I am not making any new contracts for overseas shipments until we have better indications on how long this might last," a market participant said.

Port authorities said the disruption by some truckers to the free flow of goods through Vancouver’s ports forced authorities to suspend access permits for any identified Truck Licensing System holders whose actions contributed to the adverse circumstances created by the withdrawal of container-related services.

"Such actions have included, but are not limited to, threatening, intimidating, or coercing and/or disrupting, impeding or preventing access to port facilities. At present, we expect about 40 permits to be suspended," the port said in a statement.

The port also lifted a two-week-old moratorium on full-service operator licenses to create the opportunity for trucking companies to add legitimate vehicles to their fleets and replace the capacity lost by any suspended permits.

The port announced March 3 that it had "agreed in principle" to a proposal from the BC Trucking Association and the shipping industry.

"Among the recommended approaches is to extend operating hours, change how fees are charged and conduct audits of trucking companies," the port said. "The proposal is now being circulated by trucking company owners throughout the owner/operator trucking community." It is unclear how much progress this proposal has made, however.

According to port authorities, Port Metro Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, handling $172 billion in goods annually and generating $6.1 billion in wages and $9.7 billion in gross domestic product.

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