Mere days before the US-Canada border was set to re-open to travellers, the CBSA union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) voted to go on strike.
The strike will begin as soon as August 6th, 2021 and affect many public workers, including border service officers for airports, marine ports, and commercial ports of entry. As many as 2,600 employees would be allowed to strike, with essential workers taking a “work-to-rule” action. Many of these workers have been without an official employment contract since at least June of 2018. CBSA border officers have been asking for better protection through government protocols against harassment and discrimination for years.
The Liberal government has had three years to negotiate the contract with the PSAC representatives. Unfortunately, they did not reach an agreement following the expiration of the CBSA contract, continuing fruitless negotiations through the pandemic. Now, over 8,500 unionized staff between the two representing unions of the CBSA have given their union a strike mandate in voting.
The situation comes at a crucial time for Canada’s international relations. It would also affect many Canadians who are finally nearing the ability to travel for work or see long-estranged family members. Canada’s border re-opening could see a delay if contract agreements are not dealt with swiftly. The Liberal’s failure to secure a contract agreement also puts the shared North-American supply chain at risk, including the movement of commercial traffic, international mail and parcel deliveries. Collection of duties from the border and taxes on goods entering the country will also suffer during the CBSA strike.
Some Canadian border workers would be deemed ‘essential’, meaning that they can follow work-to-rule orders. However, understaffed borders could mean a slowed-down commercial traffic flow at ports of entry.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement regarding the CBSA vote to strike: “We will be working very closely with the CBSA union to make sure that we are negotiating, getting to the bargaining table, trying to figure out a path forward. We recognize that there have been challenges but we're going to work with them. We're hopeful that there won't be any disruptions."
A three-plus-year negotiation is unreasonable for the demands of the union. CBSA’s union representatives at PSAC say workers are asking for three main things: parity of salary with other law-enforcement workers in the country; better protection by the government against harassment and discrimination in the workplace; and remote work policy for non-uniformed members.
A 2018 employee survey found that 40% of CBSA employees reported their workplace as being psychologically unhealthy. 22% also reported being victims of workplace harassment.
Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said that “...the CBSA is a problematic place to work.” The past few years have seen a number of harassment cases, including male superiors assaulting female employees and other repulsive abuses of power by management.
Jean-Pierre Fortin, National President of the Customs and Immigration Union, said, “The constant threat of discipline has a devastating impact on the mental health and well-being of our members. Our members are safeguarding Canada’s borders; they should feel like CBSA stands behind them.”
Canada’s CBSA officers are front-line law enforcement personnel who help maintain safety within the country. They keep our communities safe. After three years of waiting for a new contract, they deserve the respect of the government’s attention and a fair deal.