Border officers’ union calls for 25-and-out pension

The union representing about 8,000 Canadian border and intelligence officers and investigators is calling on the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and Canadian Border Services Agency to provide its members with a so-called 25-and-out retirement option.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Customs and Immigration Union has been in negotiation with the two federal agencies since July 3, 2018, and has been working with an expired contract for almost a year.

Jean-Pierre Fortin, the national president of the CIU, says pension reform is the union’s primary concern and members are becoming increasingly frustrated with the federal government’s lack of action.

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“Right now our understanding with the bargaining process is they’re not even prepared to entertain that demand and that’s the No. 1 demand,” says Fortin. “I’m looking at where things are moving and it seems the government is pushing our members to escalate this and we’re certainly prepared to fight for this.”

Currently, union members enrolled in the defined benefit pension plan are entitled to collect two per cent per year of service and can max out their pension, receiving 70 per cent of their best five years of compensation after 35 years of service. To receive an annuity without facing any penalties, members must be 55 years old and have 30 years of service if they were employed prior to 2013. If they were hired after that year, they must be 60 years old. If they choose to retire earlier, they face a penalty of five per cent per year that they’re missing.

The union is pushing for members to retire without penalty after 25 years of service if they so choose. The reason, according to Fortin, is that many union members no longer meet the requirements to carry a firearm and must be accommodated or moved into other positions.

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“There are a lot of people who would like to leave the agency but they cannot afford to leave because they would be hit too strongly with a penalty on their pension,” he says. “If you give them that opportunity and open that window, we know for a fact there would be people who would leave and who can be replaced with an officer who can be armed.”

Fortin says other law enforcement groups in Canada have this option.

Martin Potvin, a spokesperson for the Treasury Board, said in an emailed statement to Benefits Canada the Public Service Labour Relations Act does not allow for the provisions of the Public Service Pension Plan, which PSAC-CIU members are part of, to be negotiated.

“The Government recognizes that pension plans are an important part of recruiting and retaining a professional workforce, and remains committed to maintaining the long-term sustainability and affordability of the federal pension plans in the interest of both public sector employees and Canadians,” said Potvin.

He added employee representatives of the pension plan’s advisory committee, including PSAC, provide advice and recommendations to the Treasury Board’s president on administration, design and funding issues. “However, we cannot comment publicly on the deliberations of the committee.”

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The union is also calling for a change to the way the Treasury Board and CBSA compensate new recruits. Those who undergo training to become a CBSA officer must spend 18 weeks at the agency’s facility in Rideau, Que., where they receive a stipend of $125 per week. Fortin says that allowance is cutting off the CBSA’s potential talent pool.

“It’s not fair. And [the agency is] cutting themselves off from a group of people who could have had a lot of good years to give the CBSA, but for fiscal reasons have decided not to join,” he says, noting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police used to offer the same allowance for its recruits who trained in Regina, but chose to start compensating them better.

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“They’re earning way more money now [as cadets],” says Fortin. “It has been proven very clearly . . . that it was not convenient to put them on an allowance.”

Once recruits graduate from training, they’re given an FB-2 designation, which allows less pay than other officers who have an FB-3 classification, he adds. “A lot of FB-2s are deployed in remote areas. They are performing the same work as any of our Canadian officers, but they’re being paid way less.”

Within the FB-3 classification there are four or five different pay levels to denote seniority, so new hires can easily be slotted into one of those, says Fortin. “The union’s position is that recruits should be paid as FB-2s when they’re at the academy, but when they graduate they should be paid as FB-3s. They have the knowledge, and they should be paid accordingly.”

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This story was updated June 19 at 4:15 p.m. to reflect that the union is asking for members to be able to retire without penalties after 25 years, not asking for members to be able to retire with a full pension after 25 years of service should they choose to.