Contracted truck drivers surprised by bills for repairs

Independent truck drivers who fail to properly review their contracts might find themselves exposed to steep repair bills after a collision.

It’s a lesson Manpreet Singh learned the hard way.

Singh was hauling a load down a Quebec hill in April 2021 when his brakes overheated and caught fire. He sought help, emergency services teams extinguished the trailer blaze, and everything was towed away for repairs.

Person signing a contract
(Photo: iStock)

But then the owner-operator who contracted him deducted $7,700 from back pay to cover the trailer damage, a couple of tires, fire services, and a tow.

Singh says he didn’t have a written contract with the owner-operator or the trucking company that held him responsible for the collision. All he had was a verbal agreement.

Such incidents, while they typically fly under the radar, can be surprisingly common at fleets that classify truck drivers as independent contractors.

Another trucker, who asked not to be identified, found himself sharing the cost of a truck’s bumper that was damaged by a co-driver as they pulled out of a parking spot.

The repair was completed in the fleet’s shop, and insurance companies were not involved. He and his fellow team driver were then expected to split a $1,500 bill for the repairs.

“They made me sign many pages in the contract. I was tired by the end of it, I did not read it,” he admits.

Have contracts reviewed

“It is like driving without insurance,” says Rui Fernandes, a partner at the Gardiner Roberts law firm in Toronto, referring to the need to carefully review such documents. “If you get a lawyer’s opinion [on a contract], it’s like having insurance.”

Some contracts call for independent operators to use their own insurance or require drivers to pay for insurance that a fleet secures.

A lack of education and awareness is fueling the situation, says Paramjit Singh, an industry consultant at FSI Freight Solutions. He says foreign students flock to Canada seeking options to immigrate, join the trucking industry, and sometimes fall victim to employers who exploit them.

Sometimes there is a mutual understanding between employers and employees about how damage to equipment or freight will be addressed, he says.

Recovering the deductions

Amid such situations, though, some drivers are discovering they have rights and are looking to recover the deductions.

Navi Aujla, executive director at Labour Community Services of Peel, says dozens of truck drivers have come to the non-profit for help.

“Many companies do not hire new immigrants, so the ones that do may be not signing contracts. A lot of workers do not know their rights,” she says, suggesting that can leave recent immigrants vulnerable.

“Without their written authorization, the employer can’t deduct their wages. We’ve seen up to $10,000 getting deducted, and sometimes they take wages from the employee and still go through insurance.”

Her organization helped Singh submit a Canada Labour Code claim at the end of August 2021. An order to pay $9,283 — including the $7,707 for unauthorized deductions — was issued in June 2022. The rest was for holiday and vacation pay. 

Payments delayed

The employer ultimately signed a settlement agreement for a monthly payment plan, and Aujla says the payments started in September before being delayed in October.

So far, Singh has only received $3,200. And if the employer stopped the payments, he would have to go back through the system again.

“We could go to Small Claims Court for a breach of contract since the employer signed a settlement agreement,” Aujla says.

In the meantime, Singh has moved to work for another company in Winnipeg. But he admits he hasn’t signed a contract there, either.

As for the team driver who was charged for the damaged bumper, he opted to become a longhaul driver for another fleet – but as an employee. “I have benefits for my family and myself. I get vacation pay,” he says, explaining his decision. “I do not have to worry about taxes and deductions.”

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