Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) employees began a “work-to-rule” strike this morning and warned that the labor action could have a “dramatic impact to Canada’s supply chain.”
Nearly 9,000 CBSA union employees, representing the Public Services Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), announced the labor action after attempts to reach a fair contract with Treasury Board of Canada failed on Tuesday.
The impact of the labor action, which stops just short of a full strike, would be felt across all ports of entry – hitting everything from terminal and port container operations to postal services and cross-border trucking.
While CBSA personnel performing essential duties are barred from going on strike, the work-to-rule strike action will see agents performing only the minimum amount of work required by their contracts. During the work-to-rule strike, CBSA employees will obey all of the policies, procedures and laws applying to their work, and perform their duties to “the letter of the law,” union members said in a statement. That includes not answering questions about border regulations or collecting duties and taxes.
“This may cause long and unavoidable delays at Canada’s borders as workers carry out their jobs as they were trained to do.” The unions also warned that the work-to-rule strike would have a “dramatic impact” on border reopening plans for fully vaccinated American tourists, which take effect on Monday.
“We are bracing ourselves that there will be a slowing of the flow at the ports of entry, which under the current circumstances is certainly not ideal, given that we’ll see volumes on the border,” said Mark Agnew, vice-president of policy and international with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. CBSA said it would “respond quickly to any job action/work disruption in order to maintain the safety and security of our border,” according to Reuters.
The CBSA union workers have been without a contract for more than three years. They are looking for better pay, protections against harassment and discrimination, changes to CBSA’s “toxic workplace culture,” more equality with other Canadian law enforcement agencies, and the ability to carry guns in areas like airports, among other things.
The unions declared an impasse in talks with the Treasury Board in December, and applied for a Public Interest Commission hearing, which resulted in recommendations for the parties to reach a deal. After further attempts to reach a deal failed, the groups returned to the negotiating table after serving a strike notice to the Canadian government on Tuesday, but they were unable to reach a deal.
“We truly hoped we wouldn’t be forced to take strike action, but we’ve exhausted every other avenue to reach a fair contract with the government,” Chris Aylward, the PSAC’s national president, said in a statement. “Treasury Board and CBSA have been clear they aren’t prepared to address critical workplace issues at CBSA at the bargaining table.”
The two sides are scheduled to return to the negotiating table today.