Canada’s reopening plans may be in jeopardy after the two unions representing Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) workers voted in favour of striking – action that could occur as soon as Aug. 6.
That date is, notably, a mere three days before the federal government begins allowing fully vaccinated U.S. citizens to visit Canada on Aug. 9.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) represents more than 8,500 CBSA workers.
Employees have been without a contract for more than three years and are seeking better protections against a "toxic workplace culture" at CBSA, the unions said in a news release.
“Our members at CBSA have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, and many have contracted COVID-19 while working,” stated Chris Aylward, PSAC national president. “They’ve kept our borders safe, screened travellers entering Canada, and ensured the rapid clearance of vaccine shipments.”
“Now it’s time for the government to step up for them the way they’ve stepped up for Canadians.”
U.S. citizens have been barred from entering Canada for non-essential reasons for more than a year now.
Under Ottawa's phased reopening strategy, Americans who have completed a full series of a COVID-19 vaccine will no longer have to quarantine upon arrival, Ottawa officials have said.
The plan is to extend these entry privileges to fully vaccinated travellers from all other countries starting Sept. 7.
If a strike were to occur, commercial traffic, mail deliveries, and duties and taxes on goods entering Canada could also be slowed down, the unions added.
“Taking strike action is always a last resort, but we’re grappling with systemic workplace harassment issues that must be addressed,” said Mark Weber, CIU national president, in a statement. “The toxic workplace culture at CBSA is taking a heavy toll on the mental health and well-being of our members.”
Ottawa recently reached a tentative agreement with RCMP members that closed wage gaps and provided more support, which showed “a clear willingness to negotiate from the government,” the unions said.
CBSA employees deserve the “same level of respect” at the bargaining table, the said.
“We’ve told the government numerous times that we’re ready to return to the table to negotiate a fair contract that addresses our members’ concerns,” Aylward said. “But their window to avert a strike is quickly closing.”