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Canadian border workers vote to strike days before border reopening
The Canada-United States border crossing in Lansdowne. Source: Reuters
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  • Over 8500 Canadian border workers have voted to go on strike just days before Canada is set to open its borders to tourists for the first time in 16 months
  • Unions representing the workers say Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) employees have been without a contract for over three years
  • The strike could begin as early as August 6, 2021, causing potential disruption to the flow of goods, services, and people into the country
  • The border workers are seeking salary parity with other Canadian law enforcement workers and protections against a "toxic" work culture
  • Canada announced last week its plans to open its borders to fully vaccinated US tourists on August 9 and from all other countries on September 7

Over 8500 Canadian border workers have voted to go on strike just days before Canada is set to open its borders to tourists for the first time in 16 months.

Unions representing the workers — namely the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) — said the workers voted "overwhelmingly" in favour of the strike mandate, meaning the strike could begin as soon as August 6, 2021.

This could cause a major disruption to the flow of goods, services, and people entering Canada, according to a statement by the PASC.

The union said Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) workers have been without a contract for over three years.

The border workers are seeking salary parity with other Canadian law enforcement workers, protections against what the union described as a "toxic workplace culture" at the border, and remote working arrangements for non-uniformed workers.

PSAC President Chris Aylward said CBSA workers have been on the front lines throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with many having contracted COVID-19 while working.

"They've kept our borders safe, screened travellers entering Canada, and ensured the rapid clearance of vaccine shipments," Mr Aylward said.

"Now it's time for the government to step up for them the way they've stepped up for Canadians."

News of the strike comes ahead of a planned reopening of Canada's border. From August 9, Canada plans to allow fully vaccinated tourists from the United States into the country. Canada's borders are slated to open to all other fully vaccinated international travellers from September 7.

This marks the first time Canadian borders will be open to non-essential travel since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020. The border worker strike, however, has the potential to throw the border plans up in the air.

CIU National President Mark Weber said taking strike action is "always a last resort", but CBSA workers are grappling with "systemic workplace harassment issues that must be addressed".

"The toxic workplace culture at CBSA is taking a heavy toll on the mental health and well-being of our members," Mr Weber said.

The Canadian Federal Government said it believes it gave PSAC a "fair offer", but it was rejected by the union.

"We are disappointed that PSAC rejected a fair offer for its members at the Canada Border Services Agency that included wage adjustments and provisions in line with recent agreements reached with PSAC and other bargaining agents that cover over 88 per cent of public servants," a spokesperson for the Treasury Board said.

"Going forward, our goal is to take constructive steps to advance negotiations."

Both the government and the unions have said they are willing to return to the negotiation table and sort out a fair deal for workers ahead of the planned strike.

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