As Canada’s Foreign Service officer strike enters its sixth month and the damage to the Canadian economy continues to mount, the Government of Canada has reached settlements in recent weeks with two other public service unions by offering them wage hikes which equal or exceed those requested by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO).
On August 9, Treasury Board reached a tentative agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) giving members of the Engineering and Scientific Support (EG) group a “retention allowance” of 1.5% starting in 2013, plus an additional “terminable allowance” of $3,600 per year to members of the EG and General Technical Services (GT) groups working at the Coast Guard. Meanwhile, members of PSAC’s Technical Inspection (TI) group will see a pre-existing annual terminable allowance of $3,000 to $10,000 rolled into their base salary and a new terminable allowance of $6,000 per year will be created.
Additionally, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) revealed August 16 that a tentative agreement which had been reached weeks earlier but was embargoed at the Government’s insistence will provide an annual allowance of $1,750 to all members effective June 2013.
These pay hikes go well beyond what is referred to as the “pattern” wage settlement accepted by most federal unions in this round of bargaining. The “pattern” includes pay increases of 1.5% per year (a figure far beneath the rate of inflation and wage growth in the wider economy, it should be noted) plus a one-time 0.75% increase for accepting the elimination of severance pay. The agreements reached with PSAC and UCCO include these “pattern” increases, but will expand the payroll for the affected groups by an additional 3% and 2.5% respectively.
“Since day one, PAFSO has stressed that equal pay for diplomats would cost less than 2.5% of the Foreign Service payroll,” said PAFSO president Tim Edwards. “These two latest settlements are proof positive that Treasury Board is more than capable of addressing our long-standing wage gaps. They also provide further evidence that the Government has singled out the Foreign Service for discriminatory treatment.”
“This is more than ‘hard bargaining’,” continued Mr. Edwards. “The Government’s persistent disinterest in resolving our dispute, despite the severe and mounting impacts on the Canadian economy, shows they are more concerned with punishing public servants who stand-up to their bully tactics, than seeking a responsible compromise which would end the strike.
“If Treasury Board can offer more than the pattern settlement to other unions, there is no reason it can’t do the same for us.”
Canada’s Foreign Service has been without a contract since June 2011. The key issue remains PAFSO’s request for equal pay for equal work. Specifically, the union is seeking wage adjustments to keep Foreign Service officer pay in line with comparable employment groups in the federal government – including lawyers, economists, policy analysts, and commerce officers – who perform the same work, often side-by-side with Foreign Service officers. At present, Foreign Service officers are paid $3,000 to $14,000 less per year.
On July 18, PAFSO proposed a responsible way out of the current impasse by offering to take the dispute to binding arbitration, an alternative which would have put an end to job action. Treasury Board president Tony Clement responded by seeking to impose paralyzing preconditions on the arbitration process which he knew PAFSO could not reasonably accept as they would have predetermined the outcome in the Government’s favour. As a result, PAFSO filed a bad-faith bargaining complaint against the Government on July 31. A hearing was held at the Public Service Labour Relations Board on August 21 and both sides are currently awaiting the adjudicator’s ruling.
Separately, Mr. Edwards will lead PAFSO’s participation in this year’s Ottawa Labour Day Parade on Monday, September 2. The parade will begin at noon outside Ottawa City Hall at the intersection of Elgin and Lisgar Streets, and end around 1 p.m. at McNabb Park at the intersection of Bronson and Gladstone streets. Mr. Edwards will be available to speak with the media.