Customs officer union demands more hires as travel turbulence continues

·2 min read

MONTREAL — The federal border agency is not moving fast enough to fill staff shortages that have bogged down airport traffic and revved-up passenger frustration, the union representing customs officers says.

"With no end in sight to delays affecting travellers at airports and border crossings across the country, it’s clear the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has no plan to to get travel back on track any time soon," the Customs and Immigration Union said in a release Monday.

The federal government has been scrambling to respond to scenes of endless lines, flight delays and daily turmoil at airports, a problem the aviation industry — and now unions — blames on a shortage of federal security and customs agents.

The agency's "summer action plan," which imposes mandatory overtime and suspends non-essential training, amounts to "poorly planned half-measures" without long-term solutions, the union said.

It is calling on the CBSA and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to increase the number of border officers and commit to a long-term plan addressing travel delays amid the labour crunch.

The union's demand for between 1,000 and 3,000 more hires comes after it wrapped up its first round of bargaining with Ottawa over a new collective agreement, with problems around clogged airports and border crossings poised to increase during peak travel season.

The CBSA has said it is making more workers and student officers available, along with additional automated kiosks in Toronto's Pearson airport customs area.

Earlier this month, Ottawa suspended randomized COVID-19 testing at airports — a process that slowed the flow of passengers — and added more public-health staff to verify travellers have completed their ArriveCan app submissions upon landing.

Union president Mark Weber said kiosks fail to make up for the major decrease in front-line airport officers since 2016.

"Our volumes go up every year. Summer is a season, it's not an emergency. We don't understand how the situation we have now wasn't entirely predictable and not addressed before we get to this kind of desperate situation," he said in an interview.

The bottlenecks are mounting despite passenger volumes at land crossings and airport customs sitting at about three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels, he said.

Land checkpoints are not exempt from the delays hitting Canada's biggest airports, with "significant wait times" at busy crossings, Weber added.

"At our busiest ports, somewhere like Windsor, it's not rare to see two-, three-hour wait times for cars to get through."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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