Border officers rally for 'respect' as contract negotiations go into second year
Union members want to be able to retire after 25 years of service with no penalty
Border Service officers rallied in support of their contract negotiations in Saint John on Tuesday, demanding respect and a better work-life balance.
Border services officers and members of the Customs and Immigration Union of the Public Service Alliance of Canada stood outside the government office building on Canterbury Street. They waved flags and chanted "respect," demanding a better relationship between managers and workers.
Joey Dunphy, the third national vice-president of the customs union and a bargaining team member, said the team has been negotiating with Treasury Board for almost two years, and they've heard a lot of negative feedback.
"Everything we bring forward is a big no," he said.
He said the team is fighting for a streamlined grievance process, as well as a "25 and out" pension reform, where employees would have the option to retire after 25 years of service without penalty.
Dunphy said this pension option is available for the RCMP, and saying no to that demand means the federal government doesn't respect border officers as much as other law enforcement.
"We're the second biggest armed force in Canada. We're asking to be treated as such," he said.
"Our personnel have to go to training every year with their sidearm and when you get up there in age sometimes you can get injured. This is an option for a member to retire."
Dunphy said if they continue to disagree on contract conditions, they could potentially ask for a strike vote as early as this summer. Seventy-five per cent of border officers are considered "essential," and can't walk off the job, but Dunphy said there are ways they can put pressure on the government.
"We would never put the safety of Canadians at risk," he said.
"We want this contract to settle as quickly as possible."
Dunphy said the union is headed back to the negotiating table in two weeks. He said they chose to have this demonstration in Saint John because the city has the most border services employees in the province.
Dunphy said the union represents 325 agents in the province, and 11,000 across Canada.
According to the federal government website, a Canada Border Services trainee makes $64,234 to $71,525 a year. After training is completed, the annual salary increases to $69,486 to $82,411.
MP on side
Before heading out to the demonstration, the team first met with Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long, who said he'd convey their concerns to Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos.
"Certainly I had my eyes open today with respect to the challenges they face, how they really aren't at the same level of respect with respect to law enforcement officers," Long said.
Saint John is a port city with a large number of border officers, he said.
"Every day these officers are faced with people trying to smuggle guns, smuggle drugs, illegal aliens what have you … you take it for granted. They're more than, you know, border clerks," he said.
In response to questions, Treasury Board spokesperson Bianca Healy sent a statement saying the government "remains committed to bargaining in good faith and to reaching agreements that are both fair to employees and reasonable for Canadian taxpayers."
She said this was demonstrated by the recent agreements signed with 34 bargaining units.