Politics

Border officers begin work-to-rule action as negotiations with government continue

Border service officers have begun work-to-rule action while unions and the government continue to negotiate a new contract.

Travellers could see long lineups and delays at airports and border crossings

Canada Border Services Agency workers at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Unions have warned that the job action will have a 'dramatic impact' on the border reopening as well as Canada's supply chain. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Update at Aug. 6, 2021, at 9:50 p.m. ET: The federal government has reached a tentative agreement with the union representing Canada's border agents.

Border service officers have begun work-to-rule action while unions and the government continue to negotiate a new contract.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) tweeted this morning that bargaining took place throughout the night and into the early morning, but a deal has yet to be reached.

"In the meantime, work-to-rule actions have started across the country," the tweet said.

While operating under work-to-rule, border officers could stop collecting taxes and duties, ask travellers more questions than usual and fully inspect truck manifests, slowing down processing times as a result.

The union's 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.

A spokesperson for the Treasury Board Secretariat told CBC that negotiations are still ongoing and the government "is still at the table and will not walk away."

President of the Treasury Board Jean-Yves Duclos tweeted Friday morning that he is "proud of the work of our negotiating team."

"They've been at the table all night and we're still hoping to come to an agreement that is fair and reasonable," he said.

PSAC and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) represent roughly 8,500 border workers. The work-to-rule action will see border officers performing only the minimum amount of work required by their contracts.

The work-to-rule strike comes just days before Canada is set to begin easing border restrictions for fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents entering Canada for non-essential purposes.

That change goes into effect on Monday, Aug. 9.

Members of the unions voted to strike in late July. 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. 

The strike would have a "dramatic impact" on the border reopening and on Canada's supply chains, the unions have warned.

The border will remain open, since 90 per cent of border officers have been identified as essential workers. However, travellers can expect long lineups and delays at airports and border crossings, the unions say.

WATCH | People in Canada's tourism sector say they're worried about the border strike action

Representatives of tourism sector voice concerns about border strike action

3 months ago
1:28
Representatives of Canada's tourism sector say they are concerned about the impact the border work-to-rule action might have on their industry. 1:28

A spokesperson for PSAC told CBC that the work-to-rule action will continue until a deal is reached.

CBSA vice president Denis Vinette told CBC that the job action likely will result in delays at the border and travellers should plan for longer waits.

"We'll take all of the measures possible to ensure that we maintain the fluidity as best as we can and adjust accordingly," Vinette said.

Several crossings experiencing delays

A number of crossings were experiencing delays on Friday, with some wait times pushing the two hour mark, according to the CBSA website

Truck driver David Ferreira reported from the Ambassador Bridge this morning that traffic had slowed to a crawl.

The Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ont. and Detroit is the busiest border crossing between Canada and the U.S., carrying one quarter of all trade between the two countries.

Travellers wait in long lines at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Aug. 6, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ferreira said crossing the bridge usually takes 15 to 20 minutes but he'd been left waiting for half an hour and predicted it could take three.

"We're just moving slightly here a little bit, but due to the strike here, traffic's backed right up and over the bridge onto the freeway," he said.

Rakesh Naidu, president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the free flow of goods and services would be affected by job action.

"Even though the border may not be fully closed, it will lead to delays and the delays will cost us," Naidu said.

Frontier Duty Free Association executive director Barbara Barrett said duty free store owners are worried about how this will affect travel once Canada's border opens up to U.S. travellers next week — especially since stores have had virtually no business throughout the pandemic due to the border closure.

"It's a little bit like a kick in the gut when we're already down," she said.

With files from Katerina Georgieva and Sophia Harris

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