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Deal with border agents ends traffic snarl-up, as Canada reopens to U.S.


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Deal with border agents ends traffic snarl-up, as Canada reopens to U.S.

The unions representing 9,000 Canada Border Services Agency employees have reached an eleventh-hour deal with Ottawa to avoid further strike actions, just before the Canada-U.S. border reopens on Monday.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Customs and Immigration Union had served strike notice to the federal government on Tuesday, and the tentative agreement was inked after a final round of negotiations that lasted more than 36 hours, into Friday morning.

“We are relieved that CBSA and the government finally stepped up to address the most important issues for our members, to avoid a prolonged labour dispute,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president.

“The agreement is a testament to the incredible hard work and dedication of our bargaining team who worked through the night to reach a deal.”

The four-year agreement has yet to be approved by union members, who had been without a contract for more than three years.

According to Aylward, the deal, which runs from 2018 to 2021, includes an average annual wage increase of more than two per cent, better protections against excessive discipline in the workplace, and the creation of a national joint committee to tackle workplace “culture problems.”

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  • A paid meal allowance for uniformed members, similar to those most Canadian law enforcement agencies provide
  • A commitment toward early retirement benefits for CBSA employees
  • A better grievance-handling process
  • Domestic violence leave and other leave and allowance improvements.

Earlier on Friday, the border agency employees started a work-to-rule campaign at more than 100 land ports of entry at the U.S.-Canada border and the four airports remaining open to international travel, just as mediations went on all night and through to the morning.

Although incoming traffic to Canada is still limited to essential travel for now due to COVID-19, the job action did give Ottawa a taste of the headaches that a border slowdown could cause at some of the busiest commercial border crossings.

In Ontario, there was a 50-minute delay at Thousand Island Bridge at Lansdowne. At Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, it’s 75 minutes; Peace Bridge, 75 minutes; and Windsor, 90 minutes.

The unions’ strike notice couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, just as Canada is set to reopen the land border on Monday to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and green-card holders for non-essential travel without requiring that they quarantine upon arrival. Those from other countries are to be allowed in as of Sept. 7.

“We also couldn’t have done it without the tremendous support of our members, who put intense pressure on the government at every airport and border crossing across the country today,” Aylward said.

The border agents had been without a contract since 2018. At issue are demands by the unions for better protections of their members against what has been described as a toxic workplace culture, and greater pay parity with other law-enforcement agencies across Canada.

Most front-line border services officers earn between $64,000 and $82,000, based on the 2017 collective agreement. Some more highly specialized CBSA staff, mostly at headquarters, can earn as much as $125,000.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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