Windsor-Essex auto parts makers demand clarity after 'essential' border-crossing issues
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Canada-US land border has been closed for nearly an entire year, with only essential workers getting to pass through.
But auto-parts makers — considered ‘essential’ workers in Ontario — are starting to run into road blocks at the border, with many being ordered into quarantine after day-trips stateside.
“The last four months or so, since the second wave hit, we’ve seen a lot of them playing a little bit of a roulette game where you end up on your return back, the border guard says, ‘that’s not essential. You could have zoomed that,’” says Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA). “I don’t know how you zoom a production line.”
There are approximately 100,000 Canadians employed in the industry, according to Volpe, who is asking that only 1,000, or one per cent of workers maintain the ability to cross. That would include top-level executives as well as maintenance and repair technicians.
Jonothan Azzopardi, president of Laval Tool and Mould says these government restrictions are creating new trade barriers.
“They did not take into consideration that the movement of goods necessitates the movement of people. And one cannot live without the other,” says Azzopardi. “If we cannot get those people to cross the border, those opportunities are going to start to dry up, and they’re going to dry up quick.”
Azzopardi says some local mould makers have entire staffs in isolation after making trips to test, repair and inspect parts stateside.
The result — a competitive disadvantage to their American counterparts — who can carry out site visits at U-S facilities, but not in Canada.
“Right now, Volkswagen is saying we can’t get over to see our suppliers in Canada, so let’s not source our work from over there,” Azzopardi says.
Volpe says parts manufacturers are looking for clarity — and doesn’t blame the CBSA officers who are “just doing their jobs.”
“How do you run that business from your desk in Canada only and expect to be competitive with businesses in Michigan, Indiana a or Alabama or Tennessee,” asks Volpe. “You can’t. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to confidently run a cross border business.”
Azzopardi says he’s been reaching out to government officials to find solutions to the problem.
“We’re not asking for the border to be wide open because that would be irresponsible and I wouldn’t want that either,” he says. “Align your essential workforce with their essential workforce the province has deemed essential. Stop stopping us at the border, because we’re deemed essential just like everyone else.”
According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), In order to be considered a cross-border worker, the traveller must cross the border regularly to their normal place of employment.
“It is important to note that being considered an ‘essential worker’ or ‘essential employee’ in the province or municipality in which the person is seeking to enter, or by the individuals workplace, does not automatically mean the person is exempt,” reads a statement from the CBSA.
If the situation isn’t rectified, Azzopardi says it could cripple the sustainability and future growth of an industry.
“The decisions you’re making today are taking away opportunities that won’t come back for five years,” he says.