Airport screeners get laid back to shout Ottawa’s ‘disrespect’

Airport security officers are going public with what they deem to be substandard pay and “lack of respect” from the federal agency that oversees their work.

Screening officers are wearing street clothes at 42 airports in a new ‘casual Monday action’ to draw attention to concerns over pay and working conditions amid negotiations over a new collective agreement, the United Steelworkers union said.

Ottawa has scrambled to respond to the scenes of endless lines, flight delays and daily commotion at airports, particularly at Toronto’s Pearson, caused by security choke points and understaffed customs and airlines.

Despite hiring more than 900 screening officers since April, the federal government has not mandated sufficient funding for employee wages and conditions, union representative David Lipton said.

“Quite frankly, they are overworked and underpaid. And there’s been an awful lot of attrition over the past few months, because we’ve had senior employees leaving to take better paying jobs,” Lipton said in a phone interview.

The Ottawa airport has about 210 screeners on site when there are expected to be 350, he said. Salaries typically range from $21.77 an hour to $23.33 an hour, plus a monthly bonus of $367, to a maximum of about $4,100 every four weeks, he said. declared.

“They work long stretches without a break, in some cases forced overtime as well,” Lipton said, calling the situation “untenable.”

He said some screening officers in Ottawa choose to join the Parliamentary Protective Service, where they earn about $4 more per hour and generally face a less stressful work environment. The service oversees security in the capital’s parliamentary precinct.

“CATSA is responsible for managing its relationship with its workplace,” Transport Minister spokeswoman Laurel Lennox said in an email, noting that the agency has almost reached its hiring target. about 1,000 screening officers for the summer.

“We expect everyone who works for CATSA to have a safe and respectful workplace as the sector continues its recovery.”

The union’s pressure tactics will in no way disrupt the service, the union’s national director, Marty Warren, said in a statement. Negotiations began in January, before the collective agreement expired in March.

Screening officers are employed by one of three contractors to the federal Crown corporation Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA).

The agency launched a program encouraging employees not to take vacation or sick days, offering them an additional bonus of $200 per week if they achieve perfect attendance.

NDP Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach criticized the bounty. “Seriously, in the midst of a pandemic, this minister is encouraging workers who come to work sick. If he wants travelers on the move again, he needs to scrap this scheme immediately and start paying workers fairly,” he said during Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra noted the hundreds of new hires in security checks and customs. “We have adjusted many of our measures in conjunction with airports and airlines to reduce airport delays. And we are working with workers … who have worked very hard in recent weeks,” he replied.

Neil Parry, CATSA’s vice-president of service delivery, said last week that the incentive was put in place because “there can be significant instances of absenteeism where people don’t show up not on their shift.

Not all new recruits are ready to work yet, with training taking at least a month. And security clearance levels for international flights are more difficult to obtain, which means processing times for flights to the US and overseas may not improve as quickly as those for domestic travel. .

Canada’s four largest airports (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal) are preparing for a 50% increase in passenger numbers ahead of the peak travel season.

As of June 1, these hubs handled an average of 56,000 inbound passengers from overseas each day, more than half of them at Pearson, where scenes of traveler frustration have played out all spring. The figure will reach 80,000 in a few weeks, according to the Canadian Airports Council.

In May, some 490,810 passengers – around half of all inbound travelers from overseas – were held up after arriving on international flights at Pearson Airport, facing delays as they sat on the tarmac or were undergoing staggered unloading to ease pressure on overflowing customs areas, according to figures provided by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

Earlier this month, Ottawa suspended randomized COVID-19 testing of vaccinated passengers until at least June 30, following industry demands to process international travelers more quickly.

Transport Canada has also created an “exit screening committee” made up of government agencies and industry stakeholders to eliminate bottlenecks at security checkpoints.

By Christopher Reynolds

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