Border control strike fear adds to chaos scenario for Canadian BCOs and LSPs

Source: The Loadstar
Date: 30th May 2024

Chances of disruption to cargo flows in and out of Canada went up a notch when customs and immigration agents voted to strike over their contract negotiations with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

The proposal was supported by 96% of the Border Services group of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), and the union noted its members had been without a contract for more than two years.

The National President said: “Taking job action is always a last resort, but this strong strike mandate underscores that our members are prepared do what it takes to secure a fair contract.

“Unless they want a repeat of 2021, Treasury Board and CBSA must be prepared to come to the table with a fair offer that addresses our key issues.”

The last time PSAC members resorted to industrial action was in 2021. This nearly brought commercial cross-border traffic to a halt before a 35-hour bargaining session produced an agreement.

For Canadian cargo owners, this is another potential headache on top of the specter of a shutdown of the national rail network in a dispute between staff and the two Canadian Class I rail carriers.

Workers at Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Kansas City voted for strike action at the beginning of May, but the request from the government for the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to review if a strike could have a negative impact on the country in regard to public safety has pushed back the potential start date.

The union is in a position to strike within 72 hours after the CIRB ruling, expected at the end of this month. However, the government stressed that a strike would be unnecessary, as mediated negotiations were set to commence on 3 June. And the Canadian International Forwarders Association has written to the government arguing that a 72-hour notice period is insufficient, as supply chains need 30 days or more to prepare for work stoppages.

Anxiety over the impact of a rail strike has been arguably greater than over industrial action at the CBSA, mostly because, Ottawa says, 90% of the CBSA frontline staff are classified as essential workers, who are not eligible for strike action.

This has not allayed concerns completely, though.

Shippers are nervous should customs go on strike, even if 90% cannot walk out. The slowdowns and disruptions would have an enormous impact on importers.

Many importers, especially smaller ones, do not carry a large overhead of stock, preferring to import according to actual orders they have on hand. It is strongly suggested they bring in extra stock or ship earlier than the delivery deadline in case of customs clearance disruptions.

To begin with, congestion and equipment shortages in Asia, notably China, plus the problems in the Red Sea had resulted in extended routings and transit times and higher costs. In Canada, operators were already contending with congestion and shortages of rail cars, causing delays out of the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert. And the labour dispute at the port of Montreal harboured the possibility of yet another work stoppage disrupting traffic flows.

Big companies with the ways and means will get their cargo; small and mid-sized companies will suffer.

The various labour disputes will be resolved, but the sheer number of headaches is daunting.

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