CBSA workers vote in favour of strike mandate, government responds

Over 9,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada working for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) voted overwhelmingly to give their union a strike mandate.

That mandate could lead to significant disruptions to the flow of goods, services and people at Canadian ports of entry as the busy summer season approaches.

Members voted 96% in favour of taking job action during strike votes held between April 10 and May 23, 2024.

Chris Aylward, PSAC National President, said: “Taking job action is always a last resort, but this strong strike mandate underscores that our members are prepared do what it takes to secure a fair contract.”

And continued Aylward: “Unless they want a repeat of 2021, Treasury Board and CBSA must be prepared to come to the table with a fair offer that addresses our key issues.”

Job action by CBSA personnel in 2021 nearly brought commercial cross-border traffic to a standstill, causing major delays at airports and borders across the country and a marathon 36-hour bargaining session to reach an agreement.

PSAC-Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) members at CBSA include border services officers at airports, land entry points, marine ports, and commercial ports of entry, inland enforcement officers, intelligence officers, investigators, trade officers, and non-uniformed headquarters staff.

Responding to the announcement of the strike mandate, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) said in a statement that “the government is fully committed to reaching a fair and reasonable agreement for border services employees. We have already signed renewed agreements with more than 80% of the public service, and if the union is ready to negotiate in good faith, we can do the same for Border Services group employees.”

However, the union points out that workers have been without a contract for over two years, saying that “Treasury Board and CBSA are still not prepared to negotiate an agreement that protects workers, and continue to demand concessions at the bargaining table.”

Key issues in this round of bargaining, the union said includes fair wages that are aligned with other law enforcement agencies across the country, flexible telework and remote work options, equitable retirement benefits and stronger protections around discipline, technological change and hours of work.

Mark Weber, CIU National President, said that: “Our members’ response to this vote has been unprecedented – we extended the voting period to meet the overwhelming demand from workers.”

And Weber added: “We’re sending a clear message to the employer: we’re prepared to fight for fair wages, equitable retirement and to make CBSA a better place to work.”

In its statement, TBS said: “We recognize that labour action is a legitimate part of collective bargaining. Employees have the right to strike, but at this time it is unnecessary. We are ready and willing to return to the bargaining table at any time.”

Both parties last met at a Public Interest Commission (PIC) hearing April 22. The Commission’s report is expected to be released before mediation sessions — which are scheduled to begin June 3 —  to seek a resolution to the bargaining impasse.

Unless a deal is reached, PSAC-CIU will be in a legal strike position seven days after the PIC report is released.

Said Aylward: “We’re committed to reaching a fair contract that protects workers and improves working conditions for our members.”

And, Aylward continued: “As summer travel season nears, we hope the Trudeau Liberal government is making these negotiations a top priority. The window to avert a strike is closing quickly.”

In its statement, TBS said that “there are important upcoming opportunities where both parties can make real progress toward an agreement,” before continuing “we believe these opportunities can provide a clear path to an agreement without the undue hardship for employees and the public caused by a strike.

However, it also noted that while it “will do everything possible to reach a responsible and competitive agreement … in the event of strike action, Canadians should know that 90% of front-line border services employees are designated as essential, meaning they must continue providing services during a strike.”

And TBS’ statement concluded: “The best agreements are reached at the bargaining table. Rather than planning for disruption, PSAC should focus on negotiation so we can reach an agreement as quickly as possible that is fair to employees and taxpayers.”