By Leo Ryan, AJOT

The Canadian government has launched a formal probe into the six-week trucker strike that severely hit container operations at West Coast facilities.

The work stoppage was the fourth labor conflict in five years to have hit Vancouver, Canada’s largest port and main Pacific gateway.

The Ottawa authorities announced the establishment of a three-member task force to review the issues underlying the dispute that resulted in some 25,000 containers piling up at the ports of Vancouver and Fraser River and costing the Canadian economy an estimated C$400 million (US$320 million).

Some shippers diverted Canadian cargo destined for local Vancouver delivery to US Pacific Northwest ports. Clearing up the backlog could take up to six weeks, although several terminals have reported rapid progress.

“The fundamental objective now is to ensure that this kind of dispute does not occur again,” said Industry Minister David Emerson.

The task force has been mandated to recommend a long-term strategy to facilitate industry relations, ensure a smooth flow containers, and to improve the effectiveness and reliability of the regional and national transportation network.

It is to submit an interim report within 45 days and a final report within three months.

Vince Ready, the veteran mediator who played a key role in resolving the dispute, will serve as special advisor. The task force members are Ken Dobell, deputy minister the Premier of British Columbia, Randy Morriss, longtime head of port programs at Transport Canada, and labor lawyer Eric Harris.

The Vancouver region truckers had launched their work stoppage on June 27 to back up their demands for better compensation amidst soaring fuel costs.

The truckers also sought compensation for longer waiting times at port gates. In this connection, the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association suggested that the trucking firms and truck brokers, “will have to learn to live with smaller margins ’ something that can only be made up through higher efficiencies, shorter turnaround time at the terminals etc.”

The dispute was provisionally resolved in early August after the Vancouver and Fraser River port authorities were allowed, through a federal order-in-council, to establish a licensing system that requires the companies that hire the truck drivers to sign an agreement proposed by Ready.