BUSINESS

New trucking commissioner tasked with keeping trucks rolling at B.C. port

02/03/2015 06:47 EST | Updated 04/05/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - The union representing container truck drivers at Canada's largest port claims the person who's been hired to improve their members' working conditions is in a "blatant conflict of interest."

B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation Todd Stone announced Tuesday the appointment of Andy Smith as the container trucking commissioner.

His appointment comes a week after Port Metro Vancouver announced changes to its licensing system, which excluded some companies that once hauled cargo.

Smith is responsible for the licensing system, must create and consult with an advisory committee on issues such as trucking rates and oversee a whistleblower phone line.

But Gavin McGarrigle, area director for Unifor BC, said Smith is also president and chief executive officer of the BC Maritime Employers Association, which represents companies during contract talks with unions at Metro Vancouver ports.

"It just appears to be a blatant conflict of interest," said McGarrigle, whose union represents about 400 drivers.

He questioned how someone can represent the interests of terminal operators that pay for truck-waiting times and then serve in a position that regulates those truck rates.

"At this stage, it appears to be a case of ... tone deafness from the federal and provincial governments of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse and how they think that this is going to contribute to stability is beyond me."

Stone was not available for comment but said in an email that Smith has a wealth of experience and in-depth knowledge of the container trucking sector.

"I'm confident Andy will be able to positively engage with labour and industry and bring much needed stability to the ports, which are of enormous importance to our provincial and national economies," said Stone.

Smith's post was created last fall when the province passed laws regulating industry rates and addressing long-standing complaints about companies undercutting drivers' wages.

Gurjit Dulay of the non-union United Truckers Association of B.C. declined to comment on Smith's appointment but says more than 100 companies are protesting the loss of their port licenses under the new rules.

About 1,300 union and non-union container truck drivers withdrew their services early last year over those and other issues.

The truckers went back to work in late March after negotiating an action plan that promised to improve job conditions.