Sunday, 28 July 2013

Strike, the first in 45 years.

Currently the Canadian Foreign Service Officers are on strike, the first time in 45 years of being unionized. They have been without a contract since June 2011 and the Government has refused to modify its wage proposal, showing a great deal of inflexibility. The Government's position is that the offer is fair, they are offering 1. 5% increase.

Service is affected in all programs of Canadian Embassies and Consulates around the world. The greatest impact is in the Immigration and Visa program, where Officers have been on strike and refused to return to business as usual. Already the Tourism industry claims a loss this summer of $300 million dollars with tourists who need visas to enter Canada going to other destinations.

To settle this dispute would cost about 4.2% of the total pay envelope of the Foreign Service, much less than what has been loss in tourism revenues alone not to mention the disruption to normal Embassy business or  Ministerial trips, etc... The Foreign Minister's Office claims there has been no disruption and is dismissive of the Officers on strike.

The whole matter revolves around pay equity, equal pay for equal work. Pay equity has been a long standing issue with the Foreign Service, for many years FSO did not have job description and pay was given based on the flavour of the day in job classification. For a period of 10 years during the 1990's salaries were frozen, despite cost of living increases due to inflation. So today we are looking at a discrepancy of $3000 to $14000 dollars per officer in their annual salary for similar jobs in the Government of Canada.

What is troubling is the numerous falsehoods and comments the Government Ministers responsible have been throwing out in the public to dismiss the actions of the Foreign Service. Again it has to be understood that all communications and messaging in the Canadian Government today comes from the Prime Minister's Office. They are negative messages and attack individual Civil Servants, like retired Ambassador Derek Burney who sided with the FSO.

The arguments of the Ministers are factually wrong or false, but all is good if you are trying to sway the public who is largely ignorant of what the Foreign Service is all about. The Ministers play on the Hollywood image that the Foreign Service is a life of luxury at the expense of the average tax payer.

Ministers and Government Members of Parliament have said in public that the Foreign Service get ''Perks'' the word itself is pejorative, there are no ''perks'' but compensation for the lost of income when you are posted abroad. Opinion pieces in National Newspapers paint a negative picture of the Foreign Service. These so called opinion pieces are written by people who are sympathetic to the Right wing agenda of the Harper administration.

Claims of ''perks'' like a free car, free rent, free Private tuition for children, free first class plane tickets and not having to pay income tax have been repeatedly made. So much so that the public or at least those who are the most ignorant of the basic facts are under the impression that the Foreign Service is good for nothing and expensive to boot.

None of this is true, Canadian Diplomats pay rent as they would if they lived in Ottawa, your employer in our case is also our landlord, you bring your own car to post, you pay all your living expenses like everyone else, you do pay income tax and often without being able to claim any benefits. The rate of income tax paid can be punishing in some cases because of family situations. You are posted to countries where the living conditions are far from stable or secure, where your health and that of your family is put at risk, where you can become the target of violence, many have.

If you are married your spouse will have to give up on their career and pension. Meaning that in retirement you will have one pension and not two like most Canadian couples. You will have to make some real family and personal sacrifices that most Canadians would simply not accept as part of  conditions of employment.

The retention rate in the Canadian Foreign Service is at an all time low with a turn over of 54% after 9 years of service, you can well imagine any private corporation having such a turn over of staff would quickly go bankrupt. Again Government Ministers brush this aside as not important.

On Twitter, Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement and Foreign Minister John Baird have made negative comments and other MPs and Parliamentary Staff have joined in, all messaging coming from the Prime Minister's Office and the wording is strangely repetitive in its negativity.

It does not help when Cabinet Ministers make controversial comments on twitter.

The Official Opposition in Parliament through Paul Dewar MP has criticized Minister Baird, PC MP for positioning himself against his own Officers in the Foreign Ministry, a first in Canadian History.
The Harper Government has clearly demonstrated that they do not care for the Foreign Service musing publicly on why we even had a Foreign Service.

On Monday 29 July all 15 large Canadian Missions around the world will be shut down as an escalation after Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement rejected binding arbitration to settle the dispute.

Other Unions around the World and in Canada are supportive of PAFSO and the strike action.

Finally, in the last Cabinet shuffle a leak from the Prime Minister's Office indicated the need for a list of enemies in the Public Service to be circulated to new Ministers. As Members of the Opposition in Parliament have remarked, it is is truly extreme paranoia when within the Cabinet the Public Service is seen as the enemy.




  1. Yes, I was wondering what you were thinking about this situation!

    1. I am retired but any settlement will have an impact on my pension. I still get angry by negative comments by politicians who should know better.

  2. Dear me:
    I have been away from reading blogs x 1 week and looks what happens!

    1. A very sad situation, I am bewildered by it all.