COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for December 4, 2020

Dear members,

It’s hard to believe December is here already. 2020 has certainly played havoc with our sense of time. I know for some it feels like we’re still only in late March, while for others, a time before lockdowns and working from home, seems like an eternity ago. For others still, it must feel like time has stopped. I’m thinking, of course, of our friend and colleague Michael Kovrig.

On December 10, 2018, Michael, along with fellow Canadian Michael Spavor, was detained by Chinese authorities in Beijing in an arrest that has been described as “arbitrary and unacceptable” by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He has not been charged with any offence and there have only been unsubstantiated allegations that he has “endangered Chinese security.” He is being held without access to a lawyer or to his family and has only had periodic visits from officials from the Canadian consulate.

Next Thursday is, quite pointedly, International Human Rights Day – the day that marks the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. It’s also the day that marks two years since Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested. Two years. 731 days. Enough is enough. It’s time to bring them home.

PAFSO is committed to raising awareness about their plight. As your President, I have written privately to the Prime Minister to reinforce our deep concern for his mental health and physical safety, and to emphasize the fact that both Michaels are paying a serious price for the status quo.

This week, we also launched an advertising campaign on the nation-wide political news site National Newswatch. I know you’ve heard me talk about the two Michaels for close to two years now, but we felt it was time to involve all Canadians. On December 10, next Thursday, we are asking that people use the social media graphics included in this kit and change their profile and cover photos for that day. Please join me in taking this one simple action to deliver a clear message: BRING THEM HOME.

Michael’s friends and colleagues at International Crisis Group will be walking or running 5 kilometres, or 7000 steps, each day between now and December 10, in honour of the number of daily steps he takes in his prison cell. They will be posting photos on social media using the hashtag #FreeMichaelKovrig, and are asking PAFSO members to do the same.

At the same time, our work on the NJC COVID-19 task force continues. We are pressing the Employer on several issues. I know several of you are wondering about the tax implications of working from home. The task force is expected to meet with a representative from CRA in the near future to go over the details of filing form T2200 and how to claim up to $400 without detailed expenditure records. Once we have them, we will be sure to share all the details with you.

Last week, Nancy Chahwan, the Chief Human Resources Officer, issued another message which made clear that remote work for public service employees will continue to be prioritized for the foreseeable future. In it she reinforced the guidance that “Other Leave With Pay (699)” be granted on a case-by-case basis, and only after remote or alternate work, or flexible hours have been considered, and, with some caveats, generally only after other relevant paid leave has first been used by the employee. This reiteration of the guidance issued in late October does not address the concerns and objections previously raised by the bargaining agents. We continue to press the Employer on this important issue and are considering options for a collective response.

Also discussed at the latest task force meeting was the Employer’s plan for vaccinations. PAFSO joined other unions in demanding that frontline workers, including employees at missions abroad, especially those with direct client-facing responsibilities, be part of any early rollout of a vaccine.

Given the contentious nature of these last two issues, they are likely to remain on the agenda of the weekly task force meetings well into the first quarter of 2021. We will keep you posted on any developments as they arise.

In other business, the bout de papier renewal task force is set to meet next week in order to name an interim Editor-in-Chief. The new interim Editor, along with select core board members, will be tasked to assemble the resources required in order to begin the work on a first issue of the reborn bout for early 2021. I am very excited to see all this work and dedication going into preserving and modernizing the important issue that is our flagship magazine. I look forward to bringing you more good news on this front.

In the meantime, if there is anything causing you concern with your current work situation, please do not hesitate to reach out to our executive director, Kim Coles. She will be sure to put you in touch with one of our labour relations advisors. For all other business, feel free to send an email to info@pafso.com at any time, and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

If you just feel like checking in over a coffee, don’t forget that we get together for a virtual chat every Wednesday at 1030 Ottawa time. Click here if you’d like to join in.

I also hope you will be able to join us for our next virtual PAFSO Breakfast, which will take place at 0800 on Tuesday, December 8. Our guest speaker will be former PAFSO member Tim Martin, who will discuss his recently published thriller, Moral Hazards. Tim’s novel draws on his work in the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force and in Somalia and Afghanistan to raise issues including the use of sexual assault as a weapon of war and the “dark bargains” made by the international community “when we try to bring military solutions to failed states.” Please register here for what promises to be an interesting session.  If you would like to read the book, you can order it from the author’s website or find it as an e-book at both Chapters Indigo and Amazon.

Like I mentioned before, it’s hard to believe that it’s December already. We’ve lived through so much this year. But let’s not forget the challenges that are facing our friend and colleague imprisoned in China. We need to keep the focus on his arbitrary detention and make sure we bring him home. I hope you will join me in our social media campaign on Thursday, December 10. Let’s all take this one simple action and send this clear message: Two years is long enough. It’s time to bring Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor home.

We’ll talk again in a few weeks. Until then, take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld
President

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