Days before travel restrictions ease, tentative deal reached between border guards and feds

Mediated talks lasted more than 36 straight hours

A tentative agreement has been reached between the federal government and Canada’s border agents.

There was an urgent need to reach a deal as travel restrictions for U.S. citizens and permanent residents ease as of Monday. Mediated talks lasted more than 36 straight hours.

A daylong work-to-rule campaign on Friday clogged border traffic at a number of international gateways with trucks and passenger vehicles idling for hours.

“We are relieved that CBSA and the government finally stepped up to address the most important issues for our members to avoid a prolonged labour dispute,” Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said in a statement.

“The agreement is a testament to the incredible hard work and dedication of our bargaining team who worked through the night to reach a deal.”

It helped that the work-to-rule effort put “intense pressure” on the government “at every airport and border crossing across the country,” he added.

Wait times for trucks to cross the border varied from three hours to as long as five hours at some locations.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Customs and Immigration Union represents about 9,000 employees, of which nearly 90 per cent are considered essential workers, which prevents them from walking off the job.

Customs and Immigration Union president Mark Weber said the agreement acknowledges the hard work that members have been engaged in since long before the onset of the pandemic. Border guards have been without a long-term contract since 2018.

“Finally – after three years of negotiations – we’ve resolved long-standing issues that will go a long way towards making CBSA a better, safer place to work for our members,” Weber said.

The tentative agreement is a four-year deal and will give CBSA employees an average wage hike of more than two per cent a year, according to a union statement.

It also provides what the union calls better protection against “excessive discipline” in the workplace, a national committee to address “workplace culture problems,” as well as paid meal allowances for uniformed members.

The deal also includes improvements to leave and allowance provisions, including handling of grievances, a domestic-violence clause and a promise to work towards early-retirement benefits for employees.