Strike action by Canadian border agents on hold as talks continue

As the union representing thousands of CBSA workers approached its Friday deadline for a work-to-rule campaign and strike, they said talks have been extended. Nick Westoll has more on the concerns and what’s next.

A possible border agent strike is on hold as mediation talks between both sides continue.

The Customs and Immigration Union – part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada – representing 9,000 workers at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says talks with the federal government will continue until Wednesday.

“We’ve paused all strike action as talks continue to reach a fair contract for workers,” said Sharon DeSousa, PSAC National President. “Our members keep our borders moving, goods flowing and our families safe, and deserve a contract that delivers fair wages, equitable retirement and makes CBSA a better place to work.”

Union officials said a new strike deadline would be announced “in the coming days” and that job action remains possible if an agreement cannot be reached at the table.

The two sides have been in mediation since Monday but the union did not immediately elaborate on how the talks are going.

The federal Treasury Board said Friday it was pleased PSAC has committed to staying at the negotiating table.

“To date, discussions have been productive, and we remain committed to reaching an agreement that is fair and reasonable for members of the Border Services group as quickly as possible,” the department said in a statement.

The key issues for bargaining include pay parity with other law enforcement agencies, remote work options, and pension benefits.

The government says 90 per cent of front-line border officers are designated as essential, which means they can’t walk off the job. However, they could work-to-rule, which could bring trade to a standstill and lead to hours of delays for travellers trying to cross the border into Canada.

The agency said in a statement that CBSA employees must provide uninterrupted border services and cannot intentionally slow down border processing.

“CBSA management has already reminded our people and Union leadership of this obligation. We expect them to respect this, but are also actively monitoring operations to identify incidents of deliberate slowdowns. We are ready to take progressive disciplinary action in situations of illegal job action.”

The union says similar strike action three years ago nearly brought commercial border traffic to a standstill and caused major delays across the country.

How work-to-rule could affect travellers

Gábor Lukács, the president of the advocacy organization Air Passenger Rights, said CBSA officers need to be paid fairly for what they do, but said should they work-to-rule it would largely be an “inconvenience … to some degree” for travellers.

However, if airplane passengers are delayed for flights because of delays from work-to-rule job action by officers, he said travellers could encounter difficulty.

“They’re out of luck to the extent that meals and accommodation expenses are concerned. The airline still has to rebook them on the next flight on their own network [that] is available, but it’s really nothing that the airline can do about it,”  Lukács said.

“It’s not the airline’s responsibility that the CBSA has a work-to-rule type of job action.”

Should a pilot be delayed because of issues at screening, he argued there could be a case for passengers to file compensation claims.

“That is something the airline should be expecting and calculating with now it has been known, so I would not consider it outside the carrier’s control if they claim that a flight is delayed or cancelled because of this work to rule,” Lukács said.

He said passengers should press their airlines to explain issues that arise.

“I would use some caution in just taking for face value when an airline blames the CBSA or work-to-rule as the reason for flight delays or cancellations,” Lukács said.

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