B.C.’s first Container Trucking Commissioner has resigned amid criticism he failed to compel trucking firms to pay higher rates and retroactive pay required as part of a new licensing system that was supposed to stabilize the turbulent industry.
Andy Smith resigned Tuesday, seven months after taking the position.
The commissioner was supposed to make companies comply with terms of an enforced settlement on rates that was imposed after truck drivers crippled container ports with a month-long strike in March of 2014 over low rates.
But Smith’s appointment was controversial from the start, with union reps arguing his other role as president of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association put him in a conflict of interest, because BCMEA members run area container terminals.
Gavin McGarrigle, B.C. area director for Unifor, which represents nearly 600 unionized truck drivers, said numerous “rogue” trucking companies outright refused to pay the higher rates set out in provincial legislation.
He said they defied that requirement, as well as the payment of back pay retroactive to April 2014, while Smith dragged his feet on punishing them with the powers granted him by the province.
“The fox was guarding the hen house,” McGarrigle said of Smith, who could not be reached for comment.
Unifor responded by going to court this summer to seek a judicial review of one of his decisions and and ask for an order that he enforce the container trucking regulations.
On Aug. 10, Transportation Minister Todd Stone wrote to Smith directing him to enforce the regulations, “including fair remuneration for truckers” and retro pay, and reminding him of his duty to routinely post details of penalties he levies against violators. Stone also reminded him of an Aug. 31 deadline to publish his first company audits.
The commissioner’s resignation comes as contract bargaining between the union and various trucking companies heats up, and a growing number of drivers are once again in a strike position.
“It’s seven months of wasted opportunity,” McGarrigle said, noting many drivers are now owed several thousand dollars.
“The drivers are still waiting to get the cheques in their hands. They feel that promises have been made and broken. So we see this as an opportunity to hit the reset button and get a new commissioner who actually wants to work with everyone.”
Higher enforced rates were to end the rampant undercutting that led to the 2014 container trucker strike. Higher pay was also to reflect the expected higher costs for truckers granted port access under the reformed licence system that took effect early this year.
Stone issued a statement Tuesday promising an immediate search to replace Smith as quickly as possible.