Strike for Canadian border workers on hold until June 12: union

The union that represents 9,000 CBSA workers said they won’t strike until at least June 12, as mediation continues.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada initially said border workers were set to strike as early as 4pm June 7 if the two sides hadn’t reached a deal.

But shortly after 4pm, a spokesperson for the union said negotiations would continue.

The spokesperson said later Friday that a new strike deadline would be set in the coming days and job action was still possible if an agreement couldn’t be reached at the table.

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 union did not immediately elaborate on how the talks are going.

Similar strike action three years ago nearly brought commercial border traffic to a standstill and caused major delays across the country, the union has warned as part of the latest contract talks.

The government says 90 per cent of front-line border officers are designated as essential, which means they can’t stop working during a strike.

But union members could work-to-rule, a tactic in which employees do their jobs exactly as outlined in their contracts.

Experts say that could still cause serious slowdowns, which could turn into massive disruptions given the volume of traffic that normally moves across the border.

“CBSA employees in essential services positions must provide uninterrupted border services and cannot intentionally slow down border processing,” the border agency said in a statement.

However, experts have questioned the logistics of the government taking action on workers who are following procedure and doing their jobs thoroughly.

A strike wouldn’t just be a problem for tourists, but would “have a very significant impact on the economy,” Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s school of business, said in an interview last week.

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters warned a strike would affect the $3.1 billion in goods that cross the border each day.

“Job action would slow down commercial traffic at the border and ports of entry, impacting international travel, mail and parcel deliveries, and disrupting the collection of duties and taxes on goods entering Canada,” the group said.

“In short, a strike would be massively disruptive to any commercial traffic and business travel for manufacturers.”

Members want pay parity with other law enforcement agencies, said Mark Weber, said in an interview last week. He is the national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, which is part of PSAC.

Other issues include pension benefits and protections around “heavy-handed discipline.”

The union is also concerned about technology taking over jobs that would otherwise be done by officers, such as customs kiosks that have been installed at Canadian airports. They’ve also asked for work-from-home arrangements to be enshrined in the collective agreement.

Treasury Board President Anita Anand told the House of Commons the government is “committed to reaching a deal that is fair for employees and for Canadian taxpayers.”

“We are more than willing to make concessions but we expect that to happen on the other side as well,” she said during question period.