Unionised drivers reject tentative deal at Canada port

VANCOUVER (REUTERS) - Unionised container truck drivers at Port Metro Vancouver voted on Saturday to reject a tentative deal reached earlier this week, setting the stage for an expanded work action at Canada's largest port.

About 400 Unifor-represented drivers will go on strike on Monday, joining hundreds of their non-unionised colleagues who walked off the job on Feb 26 over a long-running dispute about pay and services at the city's port facilities.

"Our members have spoken: the deal was too little, too late," said Mr Paul Johal, president of the Unifor container truck local, in a statement.

Both the unionised and non-unionised truckers are frustrated over long wait times at the port facilities, which they say cut into their profits. They are paid by the load and do not make money while waiting in line to load or unload cargo.

The drivers are also demanding increased and regulated pay rates, to discourage an industry practice of undercutting.

Port Metro Vancouver has said it is working on new infrastructure and practices to improve wait times at its facilities, and blamed some of the backlog on extreme weather.

The 10-day strike has crippled operations at the port's container terminals, hitting the export of commodities such as lumber, wood pulp and specialized grain products. Retailers too have been impacted, as the movement of household goods and construction material slowed to a crawl.

The federal government sent in a mediator on Thursday to help with negotiations and to prepare recommendations on how to address the labor and operational issues that have plagued the port for years.

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