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Passport workers have warned Ottawa that a crush is coming

As the government implements measures in some Service Canada locations to reduce massive backlogs of passport applications, unions representing federal workers say Ottawa has ignored their suggestions to reduce delays.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould said in a statement on Thursday that she remained “deeply concerned” about the delivery of passport services, and said specialist passport sites in major cities will prioritize services for people with urgent travel needs within 24-48 hours.

She said triage work began earlier this week in Montreal, then expanded to Toronto and will begin in Vancouver on Monday. Gould said people with longer-term travel plans will be directed to other Service Canada centres.

Gould told reporters in Ottawa that the majority of applications are from new passport holders or children, which are more complex and take longer to process.

“There’s no easy solution here,” she said. “There is a lot of work that has been done and there is still a lot of work to be done.”

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Canadians are returning in droves to international travel, applying for a passport for the first time or renewing passports that expired during the pandemic. This caused long queues at passport offices. In some cases, the police had to be called due to altercations.

The number of passports issued has exploded since the start of the pandemic. Service Canada issued 363,000 passports between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, followed by over 1.2 million between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022.

Nearly 500,000 passports have been issued since April 1.

The union representing more than 2,000 Service Canada workers said it raised concerns with the government last year about an expected increase in passport applications.

The union has warned there will be an influx as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, but also because people who received 10-year passports in 2013 – the first year these passports were made available – should renew them in 2023.

“It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going to happen, so we asked for planning: Are we going to hire staff? Open alternative sites? Are you going to train people? said Crystal Warner, National Executive Vice-President of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

“They didn’t give us a clear answer on what the plan was. There didn’t seem to be much concern or consideration. Not that we were fired, but it was kind of a dismissive vibe.

The government was “not taking the situation seriously in any way,” said Kevin King, national president of the Union of National Employees, whose members are responsible for processing passport applications. (Duties of Warner members include receiving passports at Service Canada centres.)

“The problem is that we don’t have enough passport officers in the office,” King said. “We identified a shortage of passport officers a year ago with this employer, and the employer said we were looking into it.”

Warner said the number one topic of calls the union received from members was about service delivery. She said the suggestion to run the centers 24/7 would be unfair to the public and workers, but said the union had urged the government to allow more centers to operate with extended hours and the weekend, only to be told the government is looking at options.

“Could we do extended hours? 100 per cent. Could we do weekends? 100%,” she said.

The union also wants to be able to triage people so that seniors with CPP or Old Age Security issues, for example, can be prioritized over people with non-emergency passport applications. But she said that request was turned down.

“They really need to review the people they have in place in the department to make their decisions,” Warner said. “I don’t know who is advising Minister Gould, but it’s not good.

King described Gould’s Thursday announcement as “like bailing out a leaky bucket with a teaspoon.”

The government has taken action, including adding 600 more staff and launching an appointment booking tool, but King said he still hasn’t received an indication of how many of the 600 will be. passport officers, who are equipped to handle complex applications.

He said there needed to be 150 to 200 more passport officers spread across the country, and the government also needed to ensure there was better protection for these officers. King said they were harassed, spat on and photographed.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” King said of the backlogs.

Looking ahead to 2023, when the first batch of 10-year passports will be renewed, King said: “There’s going to be a really, really high volume peak at that time, and I’m not convinced the employer is ready to have enough passport officers in the field to meet the needs of the public.

While additional staff are welcome, Warner said they should have been added a long time ago as onboarding requires a minimum of 12 weeks and it can take even longer for someone to be fully trained. for work.

“The reality is you don’t get someone fully trained for about six months,” she said.


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