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Wednesday,  June 12, 2024 11:35 AM 

Union warns of “significant” travel disruptions as Canadian border workers vote in favour of strike

  • Buzz
  •   05-24-2024  10:04 am
  •   Pax Global Media

Union warns of “significant” travel disruptions as Canadian border workers vote in favour of strike
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Pax Global Media

Travellers packing their bags this summer could hit a snag as Canadian border workers have voted in favour of a strike.

In a release from the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) on Friday (May 24), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) workers have voted 96 per cent in favour of job action.

The decision, voted on by more than 9,000, could lead to “significant disruptions” to the flow of goods, services and people at Canadian ports of entry as the busy summer season approaches.

Members voted 96 per cent in favour of taking job action during strike votes, which were held April 10 to May 23, 2024, said the PSAC.

“Taking job action is always a last resort, but this strong strike mandate underscores that our members are prepared do what it takes to secure a fair contract,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president, in a statement.

“Unless they want a repeat of 2021, Treasury Board and CBSA must be prepared to come to the table with a fair offer that addresses our key issues.”

Airports would be impacted

Job action by CBSA personnel in 2021 nearly brought commercial cross-border traffic to a standstill, causing delays at airports and borders across the country and a marathon 36-hour bargaining session to reach an agreement.

PSAC-Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) members at CBSA include border services officers at airports, land entry points, marine ports, and commercial ports of entry, inland enforcement officers, intelligence officers, investigators, trade officers, and non-uniformed headquarters staff. 

Workers have been without a contract for over two years – yet Treasury Board and CBSA are still not prepared to negotiate an agreement that protects workers, and continue to demand concessions at the bargaining table, says the PSAC.

Sticking points in the negotiations include fair wages that are aligned with other law enforcement agencies across the country, flexible telework and remote work options, equitable retirement benefits and stronger protections around discipline, technological change and hours of work.

“Our members' response to this vote has been unprecedented – we extended the voting period to meet the overwhelming demand from workers,” stated Mark Weber, CIU National President, in the release.

“We’re sending a clear message to the employer: we’re prepared to fight for fair wages, equitable retirement and to make CBSA a better place to work.”

Possible strike action in June

Both parties last met at a Public Interest Commission (PIC) hearing April 22. The Commission’s report is expected to be released before mediation sessions scheduled to begin June 3 to seek a resolution to the bargaining impasse.

PSAC-CIU will be in a legal strike position following the release of the report, says the PSAC.

“We’re committed to reaching a fair contract that protects workers and improves working conditions for our members,” stated Aylward. “As summer travel season nears, we hope the Trudeau Liberal government is making these negotiations a top priority. The window to avert a strike is closing quickly.”

Ottawa responds

The Office of the President of the Treasury Board of Canada issued a statement Friday morning, saying the Government of Canada is committed to reaching an agreement for its border services employees. 

"We have already signed renewed agreements with more than 80 per cent of the public service, and if the union is ready to negotiate in good faith, we can do the same for Border Services group employees," the statement reads. "We recognize that labour action is a legitimate part of collective bargaining. Employees have the right to strike, but at this time it is unnecessary. We are ready and willing to return to the bargaining table at any time." 

The Board said there are upcoming opportunities where both parties can make "real progress toward an agreement." 

"By the end of May, we will receive recommendations from an independent party—the Public Interest Commission—which will help bring the two sides together. Then, on June 3, guided by those recommendations, both parties will begin mediation," the statement reads.

"We believe these opportunities can provide a clear path to an agreement without the undue hardship for employees and the public caused by a strike."

The statement goes on to say that the best agreements "are reached at the bargaining table." 

"Rather than planning for disruption, PSAC should focus on negotiation so we can reach an agreement as quickly as possible that is fair to employees and taxpayers," the statement reads.

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