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Province announces legislation to end trucker strike

Legislation to end the ongoing trucker's strike was introduced by the provincial government yesterday in an effort to restore work at the disrupted Port Metro Vancouver.

If passed, legislation will bring a 90-day cooling-off period for all unionized truckers currently on strike. Any lockouts or continued strikes will trigger fines up to $400 a day for truckers and up to $10,000 per day for unions or employers.

"We introduced legislation today reluctantly," said minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, and minister responsible for labour, Shirley Bond.

Government has tried to bring all parties back to the negotiations but further delay would be too costly, she said. "Today is about the economy -- not just about British Columbia but about Canada."

An estimated $125 million worth of goods pass through Port Metro Vancouver every day, revenue that is currently lost as ships are kept from offloading due to the strike. Bond voiced concern over what possible impact the strike could have on future operations in the port. "Once you see ships being diverted, there's a risk they will not return."

Legislation will receive its second reading today. It's likely that it could pass on Wednesday, which would give time for the ongoing discussion, said Bond.

Opposition leader Adrian Dix called the government's plan "the wrong approach" and said the NDP would likely oppose it. Mismanagement on both the federal and provincial level led to this situation, he said, and he criticized government for sabotaging ongoing negotiations with truckers by suddenly announcing the legislation last week.

The striking truckers, who want pay raises, an end to long, unpaid waits at port terminals, and standardized rates across the trucking sector to prevent undercutting, rejected a 14-point plan that was presented by the provincial government, the federal government, and port authority last week, which then prompted plans for legislative action.

Gavin McGarrigle, area director of Unifor B.C., the union that supervises the 250 unionized truckers on strike, told reporters he would like nothing more than to send his members back to work, but that the legislative route was the wrong way to go.

"I think it's an indictment on the province and the federal government for not getting their act together and learning how to do negotiation 101," he said.

McGarrigle said truckers will continue to protest, and if government really wanted to legislate they should instead force trucking companies to be more responsible and negotiate properly.

The legislation will do nothing to non-union truckers on strike; however the port authority has said it will push ahead with plans to terminate the licenses of all truckers striking at the port.

The current strike is the third conflict in 15 years between truckers and Port Metro Vancouver over minimum wages and undercutting. It started in February when non-unionized container truckers withdrew their services, and escalated further as unionized drivers joined the strike in March.

Kristian Secher is completing a practicum at The Tyee. With files from Andrew MacLeod.

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