COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for January 8, 2021

Dear members,

Happy new year! I hope that you have all had the chance to enjoy some safe downtime with your loved ones over the break. Though not the typical holiday period we are accustomed to, it was still very important to be able to take a break from all that is going on and to focus on family and friends for a while.

I was able to take some time as well, but there are still some interesting things to report.

With the festivities now behind us, this is the time of year I usually start thinking about more tedious things, such as my income tax returns. I am sure I am not the only one who has a few questions about the implications of having worked from a home office for the past 9 months. Thankfully, the Canada Revenue Agency has come through with a bit more clarity on the matter.

Since millions of Canadians have had to set up workspaces at home, the CRA has made it their goal to make the claims process as simple as possible this year. The new measures feature several significant changes that will be relevant to most of us. The first is the ability to claim a flat rate of $2 for each day you worked at home in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. No employer forms or supporting documents are required for making a claim using this method. To be eligible you simply need to have worked from home for more than half the time, for at least four consecutive weeks. This flat rate method allows for you to claim for up to 200 days, or a maximum of $400. Should you need to claim for more, you can use the new detailed method to claim for the actual amounts you paid for home office expenses for the period you worked from home. For this method, you will need to complete either a T2200S or a T2200 form and have it signed by your employer, which for most FS will mean the manager responsible for tracking your hours of work and approving your leave. You can find the necessary forms, along with a comprehensive and detailed guide on the CRA website.

Between the pandemic and everything else going on in the world, mental health and psychological well-being have been particularly important topics for the past year. This past Monday, the Government of Canada and Bell announced the 2021 “Let’s Talk” campaign. January 28 is Bell Let’s Talk Day, and all public servants are invited to take part in a virtual event from 1230–1430 Ottawa time.  Among the panelists is Daniel Quan-Watson, Deputy Minister, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, whose letter on his personal experience of racism was recently published in the National Post. Please register here for what promises to be an interesting discussion.

If you are anything like me, I am sure you have been glued to the news concerning the vaccination process, and are wondering anxiously when vaccines will reach you, especially at missions abroad. We understand these concerns and I assure you that one of PAFSO’s priorities for early 2021 is to keep working with the employer and Health Canada on a vaccine delivery plan. It is of paramount importance to make sure that all of our members are protected, and especially that those frontline workers – employees at missions abroad and those with direct, client-facing responsibilities – be part of the early rollout of vaccinations. I am also pressing for answers about whether or not those at missions abroad can be vaccinated locally if their hosts countries allow. I will make sure to keep you in the loop as more information becomes available.

I have heard from many of you about the progress of the FS03 competition at GAC, including the requirement for retesting of official languages prior to receiving the results of the interview. Although staffing falls firmly under management’s responsibility, and we do not have recourse through our collective agreement, we can still advocate for your interests. I have already raised a number of concerns with senior management and will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

GAC has announced a new FS-02 competition with an application deadline of February 3, 2021. The competition is open to all employees of the Public Service of Canada, including FS who are currently at IRCC, and the relevant job poster can be viewed at jobs.gc.ca. PAFSO members have launched a peer-to-peer initiative, led by CJ Scott, to help prepare prospective applicants by matching them with mentors to help them with their applications.  Further, there are two colleague-led informal information sessions planned for Wednesday January 13 and Thursday January 14, 2021 (both at 12:00 noon Ottawa time) to review the job poster and elements of the on-line application form. You can join the Wednesday session on Teams here. And Thursday’s session is here. For more information, please contact C. J. Scott directly at cjscott5@gmail.com or via Signet.

In other matters, it has come to my attention that some of you may not have yet received your 1 August 2020 in-range pay increments. If you believe that this is the case for you, please get in touch with Labour Relations Adviser, Marc Leclaire. We will compile a list of all those still waiting for their increments and contact the employer to get this matter resolved.

In the meantime, if you have any other questions or concerns about 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 someone on our labour relations advisor team. For anything else, feel free to send an email to info@pafso.com at any time, and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

The relaunch of bout de papier is going ahead under the leadership of interim Editor in Chief, Dan Livermore. The  editorial board will be meeting next week to plan the first issue, which will focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Foreign Service. Member contributions will be essential to the success of not only this issue, but the revitalized bout itself. If you have a story to tell, please reach out to managing editor, Eric Schallenberg, as soon as possible to discuss the details.

Finally, our regular virtual PAFSO Breakfast will take place on Tuesday 12 January at 0800 Ottawa time. Our speakers will be Blair Cooper and Luc Basaillon of Tradex, who will be giving us an update to their September 8 session on investing and retirement planning in the age of COVID-19. This is bound to be a very interesting discussion, just in time for RRSP and tax season. Please register here.

In the meanwhile, 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.

Once again, I wish you all the best for 2021! 2020 was very hard on all of us, but I like to start off the new year with a touch of optimism and hope that we will soon be seeing some good news with respect to the pandemic.

We’ll chat again in a few weeks. Until then, please stay safe, and take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld
President

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