Confusion over travel restrictions causing difficulties for Kitchener company
KITCHENER -- Kitchener-based Brock Solutions says it’s facing challenges because of increasingly tighter travel restrictions, and a lack of clarity over who is considered an essential worker.
As a result, company officials they say they may have to hire more heavily out of the United States, and there have even been discussions about moving the company’s headquarters south of the border.
Brock Solutions has been headquartered in Kitchener for about 40 years and currently employs about 400 people in Canada.
But president Keith Vermeer said most of their customers are in the United States.
The company provides engineering solutions for sectors like aviation and manufacturing.
“We make real equipment move,” Vermeer said. “So conveyors, robotics, things in the physical world, we make them move with software.”
Vermeer said they can do some of that work remotely, but when it comes to getting equipment functioning, their employees need to be at the site in person, for safety reasons.
“It’s part of what we have to do to keep the airports operational, to keep the manufacturing running for the things that we need in society.”
Vermeer said Canadian employees are having an increasingly difficult time as they cross the border, particularly when trying to come home, as they get different instructions on requirements for testing and quarantining.
Vermeer said their employees do essential work, but are often required to be on site for a couple of weeks at a time, and said they don’t qualify as cross-border workers.
The Canadian Border Services agency said, to be considered a cross-border worker, “the traveller must cross the border regularly to go to their normal place of employment and demonstrate a regular pattern of travel, which is generally defined as daily or weekly, or if the travellers can establish a regular pattern of travel. The nature of their work does not impact this assessment.”
Employees are provided information, documentation and customer letters to help at the border, but Vermeer says ultimately the border agent the employee encounters determines what’s required as the person returns to Canada.
“We get a mixed bag of when they cross the border, do they have to quarantine, do they not quarantine, what does it really mean, so it’s very confusing, which makes it hard for people to want to travel," Vermeer said.
The Canadian Border Services Agency says it cannot comment on individual cases, but told CTV News, “the onus is on the traveller to clearly demonstrate they meet an exemption.”
Vermeer would like to see changes to how the process works, saying clarity and a way to qualify as an essential worker would help them make their travel work, and eliminate confusion and ambiguity.
“It’s really hard… to give some direction to both to our employees and to also manage customer expectations, because we have contractual timelines and deliveries and schedules that we have to meet," he said.
Vermeer said the challenges at border crossings may lead the company to do more hiring in the States in the future. Currently about a third of the organization is already south of the border.
Vermeer said they have also had conversations about whether they need to look at moving the company’s headquarters to the States.
He says they want to stay in Kitchener and benefit from the talent pool in the area, but at the end of the day, they have to do the right things for their customers.
“One of the things that we really have to think about is what makes the most sense as an operation for Brock, to be able to do that.”