The union representing about 15,000 semi-truck drivers is slamming an Ontario Trucking Association proposal to participate in a program that would allow freight carriers to bring in international workers to help fill a driver shortage.
The OTA has asked the province to consider launching a pilot project through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (ONIP), which aims to fill labour shortages with skilled international workers. A similar program was launched by the previous Liberal government in 2017 focusing on attracting workers to specific jobs in the construction and agriculture sectors.
The North American trucking industry has been grappling with a severe shortage of drivers over the last several years. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Trucking Alliance of Canada, the industry will be short 34,000 drivers by 2024.
Teamsters Canada, the country’s largest transportation union, said in a news release that it was horrified by the OTA’s proposal regarding the OINP, urging the organization to instead focus on hiking wages and improving working conditions to attract more workers to the industry. The union says non-union driver wages in Ontario have remained stagnant for close to 35 years.
“Trucking companies can’t move overseas, so they’re trying to bring cheap labour to Canada,” François Laporte, the president of Teamsters Canada, said in a news release.
“Instead of trying to suppress wage growth, the Ontario Trucking Association should be looking at ways to give truckers a big raise.”
Representatives from the OTA met with Premier Doug Ford, Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek and Economic Development Minister Todd Smith in December to discuss the driver shortage, as well as other issues facing the industry. While the pilot project through the OINP would not totally solve the industry’s labour shortage, OTA president Stephen Laskowski said it is one of many potential solutions that could narrow the labour gap before it reaches a crisis.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade said in an emailed statement earlier this week that the province is considering how the OINP can help alleviate the driver shortages.
The union also called on the province to reduce the cost of obtaining truck driver licenses, saying most companies no longer cover the expense which can run upwards of $10,000. It also said the provincial government should make trucking a skilled trade, which would give prospective truckers access to grants and other subsidies.
“We are more than willing to sit down with the Ontario government to find solutions to these issues,” said John McCann, the national director for the union’s freight division, in a statement.