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Potential CBSA Workers Strike Threatens Canadian Border Disruptions This Summer

Potential CBSA Workers Strike Threatens Canadian Border Disruptions This Summer

Union representatives anticipate disruptions at Canadian borders this summer following a decisive strike vote by CBSA members.

The CIU and PSAC, representing over 9,000 border workers, anticipate delays at airports and land crossings this summer due to a majority vote by its members in favor of a CBSA workers strike. This could significantly disrupt the flow of goods, services, and people at Canadian ports of entry.

According to the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), 96% of participating members supported the strike, with approximately 70% of union members participating in the vote.

The possibility of a CBSA workers strike looms as early as next month, with the unions stating they will be in a legal position to strike following the issuance of a report by the Public Interest Commission expected at the end of the month. Mediation talks are set to continue on June 3, 2024.

The strike could affect workers stationed at various points of entry, including airports, land, marine, and commercial ports, as well as inland enforcement officers, intelligence officers, investigators, trade officers, and staff without uniforms.

The demands of CBSA members

Mark Weber, president of CIU, outlined the demands of CBSA members, which include:

  • Competitive wages similar to other national law enforcement bodies,
  • The option for telework where possible,
  • The termination of “arbitrary” disciplinary actions, and
  • Enhanced retirement benefits.

Another major dispute is the lack of a “25 and out” retirement option, which allows public safety personnel to retire after 25 years of service without penalties—a benefit currently unavailable to CBSA workers. PSAC and CIU have been in talks with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and CBSA over this option since July 3, 2018.

Weber also raised concerns over the increasing reliance on technology, such as artificial intelligence and automated kiosks, which he believes could compromise national security. He criticized CBSA’s move towards what he perceives as an ineffective self-service model at Canadian border points, suggesting that it is unrealistic to expect self-declaration from smugglers.

An urgent need to avoid the CBSA workers strike

Chris Aylward, president of PSAC, expressed urgency in resolving the negotiations, warning that the opportunity to prevent a strike is diminishing rapidly.

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

The Treasury Board has called the CBSA workers strike “unnecessary” and expressed confidence in finding a resolution that avoids disruption. It has also stressed the importance of continuing negotiations for a fair resolution for employees and taxpayers.

The board said in a statement, "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."

"We recognize that labor action is a legitimate part of collective bargaining. Employees have the right to strike, but at this time it is unnecessary."

Despite most frontline CBSA workers being classified as essential, Weber warned that significant delays could still occur at major Canadian border entries. He stressed that while the union does not favor a CBSA workers strike, the lack of progress in addressing their demands has left them with little choice.

The potential CBSA workers strike is similar to previous slowdowns. In 2021, an industrial action by CBSA personnel almost halted commercial cross-border traffic, resulting in significant delays at airports and borders nationwide. The issue was finally resolved with a prolonged 36-hour negotiation session.

How the CBSA workers strike could affect Canadian importers

If the CBSA workers strike does happen, it could significantly disrupt operations for Canadian importers and cause long wait times for the processing and clearance of goods. Such slowdowns would result in bottlenecks in supply chains and potentially increase the costs of goods due to delays and storage fees.

If you’re a Canadian importer, we advise you to prepare a contingency plan to mitigate the effects of potential disruptions. Get in touch with one of our trade professionals to discuss your options.

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