Canada

Strike deadline looms for Canadian border agents as both sides continue talks

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A possible border agent strike is looming as both sides remain at the table, hoping to avoid travel chaos.

The federal government and the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents 9,000 workers at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), are continuing their mediated negotiations.

Treasury Board President Anita Anand is hopeful a deal can be reached.

“We will continue to bargain in good faith. The best deals are reached at the table, and we look forward to reaching an agreement in that vein,” Anand said.

The union tells 680 NewsRadio Toronto it also wants to avoid strike action but notes the window for an agreement is closing, and if one isn’t reached by 4 p.m. ET on Friday, the workers will go on strike.

“We remain hopeful an agreement can be reached, but the clock is ticking,” a union spokesperson reiterated in an emailed statement.

NDP MP Brian Masse, whose Windsor riding has one of the busiest land border crossings, says he understands there may be problems for travellers and the economy, but he is backing the workers.

“The border officers are understaffed, they are not getting the same treatment as others,” Masse said.

The two sides went into mediation on Monday.

The key issues for bargaining include pay parity with other law enforcement agencies, remote work options, and pension benefits.

The government says 90 per cent of front-line border officers are designated as essential, which means they can’t walk off the job. However, they could work-to-rule, which could bring trade to a standstill and lead to hours of delays for travellers trying to cross the border into Canada.

Gábor Lukács, the president of the advocacy organization Air Passenger Rights, said CBSA officers need to be paid fairly for what they do, but said should they work-to-rule it would largely be an “inconvenience … to some degree” for travellers.

However, if airplane passengers are delayed for flights because of delays from work-to-rule job action by officers, he said travellers could encounter difficulty.

“They’re out of luck to the extent that meals and accommodation expenses are concerned. The airline still has to rebook them on the next flight on their own network [that] is available, but it’s really nothing that the airline can do about it,”  Lukács said.

“It’s not the airline’s responsibility that the CBSA has a work-to-rule type of job action.”

Should a pilot be delayed because of issues at screening, he argued there could be a case for passengers to file compensation claims.

“That is something the airline should be expecting and calculating with now it has been known, so I would not consider it outside the carrier’s control if they claim that a flight is delayed or cancelled because of this work to rule,” Lukács said.

He said passengers should press their airlines to explain issues that arise.

“I would use some caution in just taking for face value when an airline blames the CBSA or work-to-rule as the reason for flight delays or cancellations,” Lukács said.

Click here for more tips by Air Passenger Rights on filing claims.

With files from The Canadian Press

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