By Leo Ryan, AJOT

Strike action launched on June 26 by nearly 1,000 container truckers is disrupting traffic flows at Vancouver and nearby Fraser Port on Canada’s West Coast.

As this issue of AJOT was going to press, the truckers had so far declined to resume negotiations with the trucking companies, and no progress in the bitter dispute was expected before the week starting July 4

The strike has immobilized about 40% of the containerized cargo that normally moves through Vancouver, while rail services for long-haul shipments remain unaffected.

“We are very disappointed that the truckers apparently intend to stay off the job at least until early next week,” said Chris Badger, VP of Operations of Vancouver Port Authority. “The impact on the local economy is bad and continuing to get worse.”

On an average day, there are 2,000 truck movements in and out of the Port of Vancouver.

“There are still no trucks moving in and out,” said Morley Strachan, VP of Business Development for TSI Terminal Systems, operator of two of Vancouver’s three container terminals.

The federal and provincial governments have indicated they are willing to assist in resolving the dispute, but both sides have so far failed to mutually agree on the intervention of a facilitator. The truckers reportedly refused on June 28 to accept a facilitator proposed by the British Columbia provincial government.

The container truck drivers went on strike, seeking a wage increase of about 15% and fuel surcharges from the trucking companies to offset soaring diesel prices.

Gordon Houston, President and CEO of the Port of Vancouver, said there was great fear that a lengthy work stoppage will ultimately backlog the so far unaffected rail services to and from eastern Canada.

At present, the port says that the first to feel the impact are regional exporters of food and forest products, and such commodities as specialty grains, peas, lentils and beans. On the import side, any importer and commodity destined for the British Columbia market will be impacted as well.

The estimated loss in economic activity in one week has been estimated at C$30 (US$24) million.

Houston also warned that such labor disruptions could lead shippers to divert cargo through competing ports in the United States. “Once the business is lost, it can be very difficult to win back,” he said.

Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, handling 1.67 million teus and 74 million tons of total cargo in 2004. Thanks to surging trade with China, container traffic has continued to grow.