On June 20th, 2014 the collective agreement between the Canadian government and border services expired and to date no contract has been signed to replace the old agreement, leaving over 10,200 frontline border security officers have been without a contract to protect their workplace rights.
According to Jean-Pierre Fortin National President for the Customs Immigration Unit things have gotten to a point where strike action is being considered to put pressure on the government to re-enter negotiations.
“The last negotiation that took place was in January at that time I think it was the second or third week of January when we broke ties there because it wasn’t going anywhere. Because our three main issues weren’t being discussed,” said Fortin.
Border Services is asking for three main issues to be resolved, those being recognized in line with other law enforcement agencies such as the police force, the removal of finality on the officer’s pension, and clear guidelines surrounding the process when officers are under investigation.
The government has been seeking to remove some of the officers’ existing rights including their leave of absence time.
“One of the major things (is) they want to remove a leave for our officers. If you take more than five weeks especially if you have a child you can take that leave to care for your child. This is the type of leave they would like to take away from us. Family care related leave to be very precise,” said Fortin.
As the union for border officers works to provide their officers with work-life balance, discussion over agreement language has been questioned when it came to scheduling.
“We want to make sure our officers are being consulted and actually that we want to protect (them) if there’s a schedule of 12-hour shift, 10-hour shift that is being negotiated. That’s another thing the employer wants to have control of the schedule with the language they’re proposing,” said Fortin.
Fortin said they’re asking negotiations be entered in good faith by both parties saying to The Echo that’s why the union wants language in our collective agreement not to be at the mercy of the employer only.
“The employer refused to discuss these three things. That’s’ why it didn’t go anywhere then we call for it to be brought up to the Public Interest Commission,” said Fortin.
By having the Public Interest Commission look into the matter the third party organization will look at both parties demands and make a report on remediation.
“If this is not succeeding then it’s the strike, we would take a strike. Even though we have to keep in mind that around 75 per cent of our workforce cannot strike because they’re deemed to be essential services,” said Fortin.
Prior to speaking with The Echo Fortin had met with the National Board of Directors of the Customs Immigration Union to discuss the situation and how to put pressure on the government.
“We are not going to be compromising the public safety that’s for sure, we’re organizing right now, we’re organizing our troop guys to make sure we’re visible that we’re voicing our concern,” said Fortin.
If the situation advances to strike action Fortin said strike action could be seen at different points at the border and in airports. He said it will have an impact but again he stressed public safety will not be compromised by strike action.
Prior to 911, the border officers were responsible for collecting taxes, post 911 the officers are purely there for the security of Canadian citizens, outlined Fortin, adding that the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) is now the third most armed agency in Canada following National Defence and RCMP but did not have their salary evolve as the position requirements changed.
“I hope the public recognize especially look at the situation we’re having in hand right now. Which is the asylum seekers coming in the country, the drugs that we’re stopping at the border, the people whose been drinking and driving, the people that the police have been looking for, all the outstanding warrants in this country. We do have a very important role,” said Fortin.
Despite being one of the most armed forces and protectors of Canadians at the border entrances to Canada, officers are feeling disrespected and unrecognized, Fortin said, adding he was glad to see that last week in Parliament a British Columbian member of parliament stood up and asked the government to go back to the bargaining table with border officers.
“There’s an MP of the NDP party that actually raised a question in the chamber on the hill. When it’s getting to that level (that opposition MPs have to prod the government) we feel we’re being disrespected by this government,” said Fortin.
That member of parliament was Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski who called on Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale to negotiate a new contract.
“The talks just have broken off and seemed to reach an impasse, my interest is in trying to spur the government on to do the right thing. The right thing is negotiating a new contract in good faith that in essence puts the border services officers on the same playing field as other law enforcement officers,” said Stetski.
Stetski said he’s hoping to light a spark and get government back to the table since no bargaining is going on between the groups.
“People who work along the borders really are there to help keep us safe and secure. So I very much feel they deserve to be treated equally to other law enforcement agencies, treated with the same kind of respect,” said Stetski.
Stetski has filed papers for an opportunity to speak with the minister or representatives from the minister, longer than what is allowed in question period. Due to time constraints, it’s unclear if Stetski will get this opportunity by the end of June.
“We’ll certainly watch what happens and if there isn’t a resumption of negotiations then I’ll certainly will be sending a letter to the Minister of Public Safety expressing our concern,” said Stetski.
Fortin says that his 10,200 union members are feeling increasingly frustrated, although the Minister of Saftey endorsed the work the border officers do.
“Minister Goodale said on Parliament Hill when the question was asked to him that we were very important for Canadians. So I tend to tell the minister just show it through the bargaining process right now if we are important,” said Fortin.
Fortin said that border officers would like to see an agreement made, but they won’t be settling for anything other than a fair agreement.