Saturday, June 15, 2024

Ottawa area businesses brace for disruption in event of border worker strike

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The clock is ticking on a potential strike by workers at the Canada Border Services Agency. Mediation talks are underway, but a job action could start as soon Thursday, and that could cause chaos at border crossings.

About 9,000 CBSA workers have been without a contract for two years. The union representing the workers say 96 per cent of voted in favour of strike action.

CBSA personnel are calling for fair wages in line with other law enforcement agencies across the country and equitable retirement benefits. Another concern is technology taking over jobs, like kiosks that have popped up at Canadian airports.

“The impact on the travelers, whether it’s Canadians returning or tourists coming, is going to be far more visible,” said Carleton University associate professor Ian Lee. “You’ll see long, long lineups at the ports, at the borders where people are coming in by car and coming in by plane.”

There are three main border crossings in our region – Prescott, Cornwall and Thousand Islands.

It’s not only travellers that could face major delays, but also local businesses awaiting goods coming into the country.

“If you’re bringing things in from another country, you are really reliant on dates,” said Suzanne Quintal, the owner of Honey Hi, a clothing boutique in Centretown. She has a shipment of clothes coming from L.A. “So I’m tracking it. I’m hoping that’s going to be here for next week.”

Lee Valley Tools, another local business that relies on cross-border shipping, says it is preparing for possible delays and disruptions.

“Lee Valley regularly monitors affected services and uses contingency response planning to supply and service interruptions. In this case, we have advanced as many inbound shipments as possible to offset expected delays, minimizing the impact on our customers,” said president and COO Jason Tasse in a statement.

“We are noticing an intensification of workforce interruptions at a time when the economy is fragile. We all hope all parties can come to fair and equitable terms. Work interruptions are hard on everyone, and given the state of the economy, they will cause disproportionately high collateral damage to a much-needed economic recovery.”

Mediation talks are taking place in an effort to reach an agreement before the deadline. In a statement, the CBSA says the border will remain open and safe. Since ninety percent of frontline border service officers are essential workers they will continue to staff ports of entry in the event of a strike.

But any job action would still mean major slowdowns.

“I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens. But it’s, really anticipated shipments, though,” said Quintal. 

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