On Monday, June 27, security screening officers at 42 airports across Canada will again be wearing jeans as part of “Casual Monday” actions at several airports across the country, to bring public attention to their concerns over low pay and working conditions, which are due primarily to the federal government’s underfunding of the sector. 

Airport security screening officers face tremendous pressure, stress and demands in their jobs, but they are underpaid and undervalued by the federal government.


The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) is mandated to deliver effective, efficient and consistent screening that is in the interest of the travelling public at designated airports. CATSA delivers the mandate of security screening through a third-party screening contractor model.


Attrition rates are at all time high, as screening officers look for alternative jobs with better wages. To respond to high absenteeism rates that cause long passenger lines, rather than addressing the root problem (low wages) CATSA instead introduced a summer incentive program that encourages employees to cancel vacations and come to work sick.


CATSA is supporting an incentive program to reward employees that attend work for all their shifts this summer foregoing any scheduled vacation or even sick time. Details of the program include;


  • Program starts on June 5 and runs for 12 weeks ending on August 27.
  • Each work week (Sunday to Saturday) a screening officer will receive a $200 bonus provided that they attend work for the full duration of all of their scheduled shifts
  • In addition, a screening officer can receive an additional $500 every 4 week period if they have worked all their shifts in that period
  • A screening officer must work their schedule in its entirety in order to be eligible for each week.
  • If an employee misses a scheduled shift because of sickness supported by a medical note they are still disqualified.
  • If an employee is on vacation, leave of absence or on a personal day they are disqualified.

In effect CATSA wants screening officers to cancel their vacations for summer and then force them later down the road to take time off and call it their “vacation”.  Nobody is yet thinking about what happens when most employees need to take their mandatory weeks of vacation just before Christmas.   It is a serious misjudgement for CATSA, in the midst of a pandemic, to incentivize workers to come to work sick.  If CATSA wants to get travellers moving again and avoid delays they need to scrap this program immediately and start paying workers fairly.


If only screening contractors and CATSA would consider the officers as human beings and treat them fairly, with respect and dignity; they wouldn’t have felt the need to come with these incentives. Screening officers worked their butts off during COVID and when everyone else got wage bumps, screening officers didn’t get anything as they were not considered frontline or essential workers.


Maybe the general public doesn’t appreciate that the role of a screening officer is an important part of ensuring the security of air travellers, airline staff, airport employees and others who work in and travel through our country’s airports. Screening officers are also vital to Canada’s overall security measures, working as part of a team that keeps our country, our citizens and our skies safe.


The professionalism of screening officers is a vital factor in ensuring a positive passenger experience.  CATSA expects that screening officers maintain the trust and confidence of the travelling public by providing an excellent level of customer service from the beginning of the screening process to the end, treating all persons with care, courtesy and respect as part of a positive and secure air travel experience.


All screening officers in Canada are security cleared and rigorously trained on a program built on the principle of continuous improvement. The classroom, on the job and computer and web-based training never stops and evaluations (both written and practical) are conducted frequently. Screening officers at Canada’s airports must be CATSA certified.


Responsibilities of screening officers include, but are not limited to,

  • Working as a productive team member and supporting and promoting a positive work environment
  • Managing conflict
  • Providing excellent customer service
  • Responding to alarms on EDT, X-ray, and other equipment
  • Becoming knowledgeable and conversant with emergency and contingency procedures
  • Becoming knowledgeable and conversant with SOPs and COPs and CATSA Directives
  • Establishing and maintaining effective communications with passengers and team members
  • Ensuring uniform compliance
  • Ensuring that all professional certifications and clearances are current
  • Having the ability to prioritize, multi-task and work under pressure in a dynamic environment
  • Having the ability to demonstrate a high level of professionalism, tact, and diplomacy
  • Successfully completing all CATSA assessments including SOF and OJT programs.
  • Having the ability to mentally focus and concentrate for prolonged periods of time.
  • Having the ability to think logically and analyze information
  • Having knowledge of CATSA Organization, CATSA SOPs, local COPs, Transport Canada Regulations as they pertain to screening and the Aeronautics Act an asset

It is tragic that for all this training and responsibility screening officers are paid an average of $22 per hour. The conditions are currently such that many screening officers leave their jobs to find better paid, and less stressful work. This leads to the shortage of staff that we know, which affects travellers, with unacceptable delays. The shortage of security staff is causing enormous stress and wages haven’t been keeping up resulting in hundreds of workers leaving their jobs to seek other employment.


Equitable compensation and sufficient pay progression would support CATSA’s ability to meet their mission requirements in the recruitment and retention of employees and would definitely positively impact employee morale which is at an all time low.


Security screeners at numerous airports across the country, members of the USW, are in negotiations for new collective agreements. Allied Universal and other contractors have offered less than 2% average wage increases. According to their 2021 Annual Report key management personnel of CATSA gave themselves a 5.2% salary increase. Screening officers deserve nothing less.


To add insult to injury screening officers are witnessing their counterparts just south of the border about to receive significant wage increases.  In May 2020, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners were receiving an average annual salary of $44,920, or $21.59 per hour in wages.  The White House has recently announced in their budget $9.7 billion ear marked for TSA, which is a $1.5 billion increase over 2022.


Tens of thousands of TSA employees will receive a major pay increase. The idea is to bring pay for TSA officers in line with others in the federal workforce.  Under the plan, TSA security officers (the equivalent of CATSA screening officers) would receive an average 30% increase in base pay which would bring the average wage to be approximately $28 per hour. The plan for equitable compensation will definitely increase the recruitment and retention of employees and avoid the significant disruptions that are plaguing airports around the world, Heathrow just one example.


If only CATSA were to adopt a similar strategy of equitable compensation. The average government salary in Canada is $56,490 per year or $28.97 per hour. The average government salary in British Columbia is $79,150 which is approximately $38 per hour.  A Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) employee in Vancouver receives an average salary of $84,810 which is approximately $41.00 per hour. With these comparisons one can start to appreciate the severe discrepancy in screening officer salaries as compared to other government employees.


So it is understandable why CATSA unfortunately hemorrhages so much talent. A lot of people show up to work, decide that it’s too much responsibility for the amount of pay and decide to go look for other employment opportunities. Screening Officers across the country say they see consistent turnover among their colleagues, and they see low pay as the main driver of staffing challenges.


The job itself has always been difficult, and the pandemic has made it even more challenging.  It’s time for the federal government through CATSA to provide the funds and the mandate to finally address the concerns of airport security screening officers who have been underpaid, undervalued and disrespected for too long. Casual Mondays will bring public attention to this growing crisis.


On June 27 and other “Casual Mondays” USW members will not disrupt screening services, but they have every intention of making themselves seen and heard, so that solutions can finally be found for their working conditions.

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