COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for August 20, 2021

Dear Members,

It’s been just over a month since my last message to you. It’s frankly hard to believe just how much has happened in our world in that time. Two days before a federal election was called, just as Canada’s chief public health officer declared that the pandemic’s fourth wave was now underway, the Employer mandated that all federal public servants be vaccinated against COVID-19. Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban. And Canadian Michael Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in China. There is so much to cover that we might as well dive right in.

Last Friday, we learned that the federal government will require COVID-19 vaccinations for all federal public service workers by early fall. The news came just as Dr. Theresa Tam announced that Canada was entering the fourth wave of the pandemic – a wave often referred to as “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Clearly, it is now more important than ever for us to do everything we can to protect each other and to slow the spread of the virus in our communities. We know from the science that vaccinations, masks and physical distancing are the most effective ways to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. With this in mind, PAFSO supports the Employer’s commitment to protecting our members, their colleagues and our communities. And this includes vaccination requirements for federal public service workers. The Employer has an obligation to ensure our workplaces are safe, both here in the national capital region and at missions abroad.

That said, it is important to remember that what we have now is an announcement from the Employer, not a concrete plan or policy. Furthermore, we are in the middle of an election, so various figures may be speaking as politicians on the campaign trail rather than representatives of the Employer. Any measures taken must be applied consistently, in ways that safeguards employees’ privacy, ensure that workers’ human rights are respected, and provide for legitimate accommodations. We expect the Employer to continue consulting with the bargaining agents on the implementation of this and other COVID-19 policies and will be pressing them for further details on all aspects, including how this will affect those of you at missions abroad.

In the midst of all this, the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban have been particularly heartbreaking for many of us, especially the dedicated staff at our mission in Kabul. As many of you know, I served as Political Advisor to the Deputy Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul in 2003–04, and as Political Advisor to the Commander of Regional Command South in Kandahar in 2006 and witnessed bravery and sacrifice by Canadian, Afghan, and international colleagues. Former PAFSO member Glynn Berry lost his life in Kandahar in 2005, and others among us have suffered serious physical and psychological injuries as part of their efforts to help Afghans build better lives.

It is sad to think that so much of the hard work we did in the past 20 years could be undone in a matter of weeks. Neil Moss from The Hill Times reached out to me for my thoughts on the contributions of Canada’s professional Foreign Service to Afghanistan, the ways the mission changed us, and the role we may play in that country’s not-too-distant future. You can read his insightful article here. Right now, my thoughts are with our colleagues in Islamabad, and elsewhere in the region, who now have the difficult task of handling the current exodus, the Afghans who are facing a difficult future marked by devastating choices, and all of us who grapple with this challenging legacy.

In other difficult news, we learned last week of the sentencing of Canadian Michael Spavor in Dandong, China after two and a half years of arbitrary detention. The news of his 11 year sentence has us deeply concerned for the fate of our friend and colleague, Michael Kovrig, who is still awaiting his sentence. We continue to call on the governments of China and Canada, as well as on the international community, to come together to find a solution to this issue.

In order to keep the spotlight on this story as we approach 1000 days since their arrests, family and friends are organizing the “March for the Michaels: 7000 Steps to Freedom,” on Sunday, 5 September at 0930 in Ottawa. We encourage all of you in Ottawa who can make it to join them, and ask those of you at missions abroad to consider taking a similar walk and sharing your photos on social media using the hashtag #bringthemhome. You can register and find out more here. You can also show your solidarity by downloading and sharing our graphics on your social media channels.

In other business, after extensive consultations with members and experts, the Executive Committee is recommending that the Full Time Presidency become a permanent part of PAFSO’s governance structure. This recommendation, along with the supporting amendments to our Constitution, will be put to a membership-wide vote beginning on 17 September. For more information, please view the recording of our third consultation session here, or view the deck from these sessions here. You can also find a full set of the latest proposals and related documents on our consultation wiki on myPAFSO. I will also host a virtual information session on the process and the issues at hand on Thursday, 2 September, at 1130 Ottawa time. You can register for that session here.

Our summer Policy Analyst, Victoria Epton, is also concluding her framework for the GBA+ analysis of our collective agreement. Her research has challenged our assumptions and given us a way forward on developing an intersectional approach to both collective bargaining and the next review of the Foreign Service Directives. If you are interested in getting a sneak peek at her conclusions, please register here for a virtual roundtable discussion on Friday, 27 August at noon Ottawa time.

Please don’t forget that nominations for PAFSO’s Executive Committee close next Friday, 27 August. We have vacancies for two member-at-large positions as well as every stream except FPDS. Given the wide range of challenges and opportunities we’ll be facing over the next year, from COVID to collective bargaining and the triennial review of the FSDs, we really need your help. You can find the nomination form here. I’ll be hosting an information session on Tuesday, 24 August at 0930 Ottawa time for those who would like to learn more. Please click here to register.

As always, for any and all concerns about your situation at work, do not hesitate to contact our Executive Director, Kim Coles. She will put you in contact with one of our labour relations advisors who will be glad to help. If anything else comes up, just email info@pafso.com and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

This pandemic is tenacious, and the thought of a fourth wave is exhausting. That’s why it’s more important than ever to not let our guard down. We all need to listen to our health officials, keep adhering to all health and safety measures, and, if we are able to, get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

Since we’re still in the middle of vacation season, for both members and staff, my next regular message will come to you in the third week of September. Until then, take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

All the best,

Pam Isfeld
President

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