The Pictou County Truckers Association said its 47 active members have lost work this summer because the province has decided to use its own trucks to haul gravel to road sites for chip seal work in the county rather than using independent truckers.
"The government is hollering all the time about saving money, but they appear to be spending more than they are saving by doing this," said Mike Burge, a member of the local truckers association.
In mid-June, double chip seal work began in Pictou West with a total of 26.7 km of roads being repaved. As part of the project, trucks from the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal are hauling gravel from S.W. Week's pit in MacLellan's Brook to Caribou that is about a 30-km drive.
According to the truckers association, its members can haul between 15- and 30-tonne loads with one truck whereas the provincial trucks can handle between nine and eleven tonnes at a time.
"They would take three trucks to drive from MacLellan's Brook to Pictou and I would only have to take one," said truckers association member Sidney Ross. "You got to think of safety, environmental issues and wear and tear on your gear. Think about what it costs to run those three trucks down to Pictou from MacLellan's Brook versus one truck like ours."
The association said the provincial trucks are considerably heavier than those operated by independent truckers because they are built to handle snowplow equipment. This means that not only is their box size smaller but they can't haul as much gravel to the job sites because of weight restrictions on the roads.
According to provincial guidelines, an 80/20 rule is in place when it comes to hiring independent trucks for roadwork. This means for every eight independent trucks hired for a job, the contractor can use another two of its own.
However, the association said this rule doesn't apply to the chip seal work being done in Pictou County because it has been labeled as a maintenance project.
"The biggest thing that we are doing is paying all our fees and licenses to the province and they are turning around and using their trucks to haul," said association member Kenneth Foote. "We are still paying all the licenses and fuel tax and they are taking all the work."
The truckers association said it brought its concerns to all three Pictou County MLAs but they haven't seen any change in the way the work is being done.
Pictou West MLA Charlie Parker said using TIR employees and trucks is considered a cost-savings measure by the province because it is using its own resources and creating a competitive market.
"It has brought the prices of tenders down considerably," he said, adding that only six per cent of the work being done in the province is double chip seal work while 94 per cent falls under the 80/20 rule. "There is more work for private truckers than ever before."
He said none of the chip seal work in Pictou County has been tendered out but there is highway work going on with the twinning of the 104 in Sutherlands River and Highway 376 that both fall under the 80/20 rule.
In a recent guest column in The News, Transportation Minister Maurice Smith said in-house chip seal work started last year with one crew to introduce competition to the industry and to maximize taxpayers' dollars.
In previous years, he said, the province was paying private industry $91,000 per kilometre of double chip seal but in 2011 it paid $40,000 per kilometre for tendered work.
However, the truckers' dispute this claim saying the province will have to show them how they are saving money by running more trucks up the road, using more gasoline while they are paying their employees wages and benefits.
Foote said he counted 17 trucks working in Pictou West on Friday (July 13) and he believes some of them had to be called in from other parts of the province to work when they could be using local truckers.
"They are coming from Miller Lake, Shelburne and Dartmouth. The government is saying they can do this work cheaper, well let them show us on paper how they are doing this cheaper," he said.
The truckers association says that amount its members are paid is already determined by province.
"Our rates are dictated to us by the province and we are supposed to be a tool of theirs to use, not their competition," said Burge. "We are told what we are getting for a rate."
The Pictou County Truckers Association isn't alone when it comes to voicing its concerns about the use of the yellow trucks at job sites.
Grant Feltmate, executive director of the Nova Scotia Road Builders Association, said the association has some valid concerns that need to be addressed.
"The whole road building activity by government is a bad idea and expensive for taxpayers," he said, adding the province had quality issues over the little bit of chip sealing it has done in the past.
He said the road builders association has had several meeting with the government over the issue.
"The government is very large customer of ours and this puts us in a position where we have to oppose them," he said. "It a precarious position for contractors to be in."
Pictou East MLA Clarrie MacKinnon said he has been lobbying for the provincial government to find a balance to the situation.
"There are two sides to this story," he said. "The Department of Transportation has workers that can work during the summer months, but independent truckers have a lot invested in their trucks. There needs to be a balance that will use the truckers."
Brian Smith, chairman of the Truckers Association of Nova Scotia, said he is meeting with the transportation minister Thursday (July 19) to once again voice their concerns on the matter.
"There is no way they are saving money," he said. "We think we can do this more economically than the province does."
He said if the province would continue to let work to fall under the 80/20 rule at all of its projects, the trucking industry would grow in the province rather than shrink.
"You can't buy a truck and be expected to make a living when you are only getting out a few times," he said.