Nearly 9,000 Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) personnel will begin a work-to-rule strike on Friday, their union said, warning that the labor action could have a “dramatic impact to Canada’s supply chain” and imperil the government’s plans to reopen the border to U.S. travelers.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada and its Customs and Immigration Union issued a work-to rule strike notice on Tuesday and said the labor action will begin at 6 a.m. Friday unless an agreement on a new contract is reached. It comes as the union and the workers’ employer, the Treasury Board of Canada, agreed to return to the bargaining table on Friday.
The labor action stops short of a full strike. But the union said its impact would be felt at all of Canada’s ports of entry, hitting everything from port container operations to cross-border trucking.
“During work-to-rule strike action, 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,’” the Public Service Alliance of Canada and Customs and Immigration Union said in a statement. “This may cause long and unavoidable delays at Canada’s borders as workers carry out their jobs as they were trained to do.”
The union may be trying to work around the legal constraints of a regular strike. CBSA personnel who perform essential duties, including front-line officers, are barred from going on strike. However, the definition of essential doesn’t include collection of duties and taxes and maintaining stakeholder relations, according to a federal labor tribunal ruling.
Global shipping giant Maersk on Tuesday said the potential impacts of any labor action by CBSA officers are difficult to gauge because of limitations on who can strike.
But it warned customers that a labor action could “have cascading effects throughout the supply chain.” The company advised customers to “review any high-profile cargo currently in your pipeline and consider expediting it prior to Aug. 6.”
The strike comes as Canada prepares to reopen its border for U.S. travelers, something expected to drive demand for freight.
The CBSA employees have been without a contract for about three years. Their union is seeking pay parity with other Canadian law enforcement agencies and changes to working conditions, alleging that members often contend with a toxic workplace.
“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, Public Service Alliance of Canada national president, said in a statement.
The Treasury Board of Canada said in a statement that it has put forward an offer that “provides a reasonable basis” to reach an agreement with the union.
“The Government of Canada has great respect for border services officers and the important work that they do and remains committed to reaching agreements with all bargaining agents that are fair to employees, mindful of today’s economic and fiscal context and reasonable for Canadian taxpayers,” Geneviève Sicard, a spokesperson for the Treasury Board of Canada secretariat, said in a statement.
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