Border workers vote to strike, potentially hampering Canada’s reopening plans

Canada’s reopening plans could be hindered as thousands of border officers gird themselves for potential strike action.

The two unions representing more than 8,500 Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) employees announced this morning that the majority of their members have given them a strike mandate.

That means they could begin strike action as soon as Aug. 6, mere days before Canada reopens the border to fully vaccinated U.S. residents, said the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) in a news release.

Many workers would be deemed essential, but the union said strike action could slow down commercial traffic at the border and ports of entry; hit international mail and parcel deliveries from Canada Post and other major shipping companies; and disrupt the collection of duties and taxes on goods entering Canada.

The unions’ members — who have been without a contract since June 2018 — include border service officers at airports, land entry points, marine ports and commercial ports of entry; inland enforcement officers; intelligence officers; investigators; trade officers; hearings officers; and non-uniformed members.

Their essential services agreement allows for 2,600 members to take full strike action, while the essential workers can take work-to-rule actions in their workplace.

Window to avert strike ‘quickly closing’

The unions have been fighting primarily for three things: salary parity with other law enforcement workers in Canada; better protections against harassment and discrimination; and a remote work policy for non-uniformed members.  

An influx of travellers is expected in the coming weeks as the federal government moves to let fully vaccinated tourists visit Canada again. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Chris Aylward, PSAC national president, said the unions are hoping the government will return to the negotiating table.

“But their window to avert a strike is quickly closing,” he said in a statement. 

Last week, when the strike vote was ongoing, a spokesperson for the CBSA said the agency is preparing for a possible work disruption.

“The Canada Border Services Agency will respond quickly to any job action/work disruption in order to maintain the security of our border, ensure compliance with our laws and facilitate the flow of legitimate goods and travel,” said Louis-Carl Brissette Lesage in an email to CBC News.

“We expect that our officers will continue to fulfil their duties with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.”

WATCH | Government confident in contingency plan should CBSA agents choose to strike, minister says:

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the government is reassured by the contingency planning briefings it has received should Canada Border Service Agency agents choose to strike in early August. 6:46

On Monday, the federal government announced plans to let fully vaccinated tourists visit Canada again soon.

Starting Aug. 9 at 12:01 a.m. ET., fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in that country will be able to visit Canada.

The government said it plans to open Canada’s borders to fully vaccinated travellers from all other countries on Sept. 7.

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