Canadian Foreign Service Workers Union Offers Binding Arbitration

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is responsible for protecting Canadians from a growing federal debt burden and tax load, has until Tuesday to accept PAFSO’s offer to enter into binding arbitration to end the pay dispute (Government of Canada)

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) has offered to enter into binding arbitration with the federal government to end the strike of its members and with it, the disruption to permanent residency and visa issuance.

PAFSO is giving the government until Tuesday to accept the offer before it is rescinded. Treasury Board President Tony Clement must decide whether to accept the deal, which would give a third party arbitrator final say as to what the new compensation scheme for Canada’s foreign services will be, or stick with the government’s current proposal.

The strike is delaying the processing of visa applications, which has elicited warnings from various groups, including the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and Nova Scotia’s premier, that the continuation of the strike will cost the Canadian economy by reducing the number of tourists and international students that land in Canada.

The federal government is aware of the damage the strike is doing but says the offer it has already proposed is fair because foreign service officers receive a special foreign allowance that makes up for their salaries being lower than that of other public servants.

The government also says that foreign service jobs are highly sought after in Canada which indicates the compensation offered is sufficient.

PAFSO has responded that the foreign allowance is not a special benefit to foreign service officers, as all Canadian public servants working overseas receive it, regardless of their division.

This, according to the foreign service officers union, makes the government’s proposed compensation scheme, which would give a foreign service officer on the level-2 pay scale at the maximum experience-grade $87,000 per year, unfair, as it would still be $11,000 less than what a comparatively experienced public servant in the commerce division would receive.

The government has been reluctant to increase its offer however, saying that the PAFSO strike is an attempt to ‘blackmail’ Canada by withholding a vital service.

Clement has said that a more generous offer would be unfair to Canadians who would have to foot the bill, a suggestion that the government believes the compensation offered is adequate for attracting qualified individuals to fill the foreign service positions.

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Nova Scotia Premier to Press for End to Diplomat Strike Citing Visa Delays

Nova Scotia Premier Darrel Dexter says Atlantic Canada is being harmed economically by the strike of foreign service officers (Government of Nova Scotia)

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter says the strike by Canadian foreign service officers is hurting Canadian provinces by delaying the processing of student visas.

International students studying in Canada provide a significant economic boost to communities across the country, including several in Nova Scotia, through the spending money they bring with them.

A report done last year by University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope for the Canadian Council of Chief Executives found that international students contribute $6.5 billion a year to the Canadian economy.

Dexter warned that this could be jeopardized by the foreign service officers strike, as universities in the U.S. will be more appealing to students wishing to study abroad if they are unable to get their Canadian student visas quickly:

“If you’ve got five universities on your radar and two of them are in Canada and three are in the United States and you get your visa into the United States in three days then when you are trying to plan for the future if you have to wait two months before you know if you’re even going to get a student visa it makes it a heck of a lot more likely you are you going to choose one of the three options in the U.S.”

Strike action by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) is affecting the processing of visa applications in 12 foreign missions, including those in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bogota, and Sao Paolo.

The premier says the provinces should urge the federal government to escalate the labour dispute in order to resolve it, which most likely would lead to a court ordered end to the strike.

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Canadians Foreign Service Officers Picket in Front of PM Office

Members of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) picketed in front of the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday (GOOGLE MAPS)

Canadian diplomatic staff belonging to the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), a union for foreign service officers employed with the Canadian government, held a picket outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday to draw attention to their strike.

The dispute is over claims by PAFSO that foreign service officers receive less pay than public servants in similar position in other departments of the federal government.

For example, a foreign service officer on the level-2 pay scale starts out making $65,304 per year, which can increase to up to $82,630 with experience. The Treasury Board has offered to raise the maximum pay for foreign services on the level-2 pay scale to about $87,000. PAFSO says this is still not enough, as it is about $11,000 less than comparatively experienced employees at the same level in the commerce division.

The federal government says that positions in Canada’s foreign service are highly sought after, and earn benefits not available to other public servants, like partial reimbursement for dry cleaning, a vehicle, and an incentive allowance for working outside the country.

PAFSO members say these overseas benefits are available to all federal public servants that work overseas, including those working in federal departments which have employees that receive higher salaries than comparable foreign service officers, so don’t compensate for the pay deficiency of foreign service officers relative to other federal employees.

Strike action by PAFSO is affecting services at Canadian missions in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bogota, and Sao Paolo.

There is concern that delays in processing visas as a result of the strike will hurt Canada’s tourism industry

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Canadian Diplomats Around the World Walk Off Job In Strike

The Canadian High Commission in New Dehli, India. The walk out by Canadian diplomats will affect visa and permanent resident application processing in 12 Canadian missions around the world, including in India and China (Wikipedia)

Canadian diplomats stationed in 12 missions around the world walked off the job on Thursday in a dispute with the federal government over compensation.

The diplomats are members of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), a union and professional association representing foreign service officers working for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

PAFSO is demanding a wage increase, saying its members are paid less than other employees of the federal government. The Globe and Mail provides an example of the difference in division salary schedules that PAFSO is protesting:

For example, an experienced foreign service officer on the level-2 pay scale makes about $83,000 a year, which would increase to about $87,000 under the Treasury Board offer, Mr. Edwards said. That would still be about $11,000 less than the salary of employees at the same level in the commerce division.

A spokesman for the federal government disputed the claim in a response to the Globe and Mail, saying foreign service officers receive other benefits that bring their total compensation up to the level of other public servants:

Mr. Conway added that foreign service officers receive additional benefits, including partial reimbursement for dry cleaning, help in shipping household belongings, a vehicle abroad and an incentive allowance for working outside the country.

Foreign service officers abroad can receive a “foreign service premium” of $6,600 to $31,300, depending on their seniority and the number of dependants accompanying them on a posting. A smaller, post-specific allowance is meant to help diplomats with the cost of travel.

The walk-off puts the federal government in a difficult spot, as much of its foreign operations, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s upcoming trip to Europe for the G8 summit, are dependent on foreign support staff.

Also affected will be visa and permanent resident application processing in large Canadian visa offices, including the ones based in China and India.

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