Sask. trucking association wants feds to hit the brakes on vaccine mandate

December 15, 2021

The Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA) is voicing concerns over the federal government’s plans to make vaccine mandates a requirement in the industry, saying it will further harm already strained supply chains.

Sask. trucking association wants feds to hit the brakes on vaccine mandate

Susan Ewart, executive director of the STA, said the industry is already facing a labour shortage and a vaccine mandate will only make things worse.

“Companies in Saskatchewan can’t find drivers either. So this is going to just make it more and more difficult for those companies to be able to have strong business operations,” said Ewart during a phone interview on Tuesday.

On Dec. 7, the Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan Jr. announced the federal government will propose regulations making vaccination mandatory on federally regulated workplaces. The new regulations would affect industries such as road transportation, telecommunications and banking. The regulations would come into effect in early 2022.

In its release, the government said many employers in these industries have already made vaccination mandatory for their workers, but Ewart said she was not aware of any trucking companies in Saskatchewan doing so.

Ewart said vaccination rates at trucking companies in the province run the gamut from workforces that are almost completely vaccinated, to less so.

“We’ve got fleets who can cite they’ve got 90 per cent plus of their company vaccinated and others are way less than that. So they’re all over sort of the spectrum or the range. I think one of the challenges that the industry faces is that typically drivers do work very independently,” said Ewart.

Ewart said there is the possibility that with vaccination rates in some parts of the province being lower, that could be reflected in some Sask. trucking companies.

The STA’s concern is that a mandate would both make recruiting harder and steer existing drivers out of the industry. The Canadian Trucking Association (CTA) estimates that between 15,000 and 30,000 truck drivers would exit the supply chain or move into working for a business model dubbed Driver Inc. companies.

Described by the CTA as an “underground economy,” Driver Inc. companies are a subset of companies it alleges sidestep safety and labour rules and misclassify drivers as contractors to avoid tax and labour requirements.

Both the STA and CTA are warning the effects of a vaccine mandate in the trucking industry would lead to further woes for supply chains in Canada, which have already been strained by the pandemic and flooding in British Columbia.

“Saskatchewan is a landlocked province, right? We are going to rely on trucking companies to move our exports,” said Ewart.

The STA has reached out to the provincial government for support on its concerns. In a statement, the province cited its institution of The Employers’ COVID-19 Emergency Regulations on Oct. 1, 2021, which enabled businesses to require proof of vaccination or negative tests from workers. The province said many businesses have chosen to implement vaccine requirements.

“As a province that relies on the strength of its exports, the trucking industry is a crucial part of the supply chain in the Saskatchewan economy.  The Government of Saskatchewan shares the concerns raised by the Saskatchewan Trucking Association regarding the impacts of the new measures to be implemented January 15, 2022, after going this far through the pandemic with these workers being deemed essential,” said the province.

In a statement, the federal government said it was planning to implement the regulations because vaccines are the best line of defence against COVID-19, and that it consulted with the country’s trucking industry.

“The Government consulted with key stakeholders, including the Canadian trucking industry to ensure that, to the extent possible, their concerns and operational realities are taken into account as it works to finalize the regulations,” reads a statement from Employment and Social Development Canada.

If the federal government does proceed with the regulations, Ewart said the trucking industry is asking for at least 12 months to prepare for the changes.

“I think we just need some more time is what we’re asking for, and we’re asking for support from our provincial government in making sure that message is delivered to Ottawa,” said Ewart.

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