COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for July 17, 2020

Dear members:

As of this morning, most regions here in Ontario have passed to the last stage of the economic reopening. Meanwhile, more and more municipalities across Canada are making masks and face coverings mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For the last several weeks, PAFSO has been working closely with the Employer as they develop concrete plans for the eventual return to our workplaces in Canada and abroad. We expect that details will soon be forthcoming from GAC and IRCC on the plans, which will involve an iterative approach and see employees reintroduced to their offices in phases. The maximum emphasis is being placed on the safety of employees and there are several milestones for assessment and evaluations – graduating to the next phase will only happen if a rigorous set of health and safety requirements are met. This next phase will require a certain amount of flexibility from members and management alike as everyone feels their way towards solutions that are appropriate for local conditions and prioritize the safety and well-being of employees. Please rest assured that PAFSO is fully engaged on these issues, and if you believe that the reintegration process for your work unit is being handled in a discriminatory or unsafe manner, do not hesitate to reach out to Executive Director Kim Coles for assistance and advice.

I am very pleased to report that our advocacy with GAC and Treasury Board on the fate of members identified as medically vulnerable who wish to return to post seems to have borne fruit. Most employees that we are aware of are being granted medical evaluations under an expedited process. Health Canada has agreed to develop a framework whereby evaluations could be conducted by other medical professionals, paving the way for employees and dependents to be evaluated by their treating physicians. Currently, about 25 to 30 evaluations are being conducted per week for GAC, and we understand they are taking place at a similar rate for IRCC. GAC’s new provisions should accelerate this process.

A few members have contacted me to raise concerns about GAC’s requirement for medical evaluations to return to missions after repatriating people based on self-declarations of vulnerability. Although we recognize the inconsistency, we also must recognize GAC’s legitimate duty of care towards employees and their dependents in our radically new global health environment. Therefore, I recommend that those who want to return to mission do their best to comply with GAC and Health Canada’s requests. However, if you believe your case is being handled in a discriminatory or unfair way, don’t hesitate to reach out to our office for help from one of our labour relations experts.

The COVID-19 situation has had a number of knock-on effects, including GAC’s decision to “stop the clock” on the accumulation of service for term employees who would have reached the three-year threshold for indeterminate status with this year’s renewal of their contracts. The stated reason for this decision is that the department is facing financial uncertainty and making these employees indeterminate could trigger a “workforce adjustment situation” (aka layoffs). This is a very demoralizing development, not only for these employees but for their colleagues. Therefore,  PAFSO’s position, like that of the other unions, is that GAC should respect the Government of Canada’s policy on terms and deal with any surplus issues if and when the time comes. We are communicating our views to GAC management in concert with the other affected bargaining agents and helping individual members deal with their situations. We will keep you informed of our progress.

In other developments, our colleagues at the Public Service Alliance of Canada reached an agreement on Phoenix damages as well as a contract for their largest occupational group last week. This is good news not just for them but for PAFSO’s most recent members, many of whom joined the FSIA stream from the PM group and so were not covered under our own Phoenix agreement for the period before 2019. These members may now be eligible to receive their portion of the $1500 and $1000 settlements PSAC has negotiated and should be hearing from their former union soon. We remain satisfied with our own agreement for five days of cashable leave, since most PAFSO members’ salaries are higher than $2500 per week and banked vacation days will increase in value.

PAFSO’s collective agreement compares favourably to the new PSAC deal in terms of financials, since ours is valid for four years, rather than three, and brings us 6.5% over the first three years (with 0.1% of that allocated to additional steps for FS01s) and 8% in total. Since these are pensionable salary gains rather than lump sum payments, they will benefit us throughout our careers and into retirement. The guaranteed 1.5% in our fourth year gives us an element of stability as our country heads into what could be very rough fiscal waters.

Personally, I have also been very glad not to be in contract negotiations over the last five months, not just to be able to focus on the COVID-19 crisis, but also to continue our ongoing work on projects such as PAFSO’s Strategic Plan. On Wednesday, I held a focus group for interested members and had a lively discussion with a small but engaged group on a range of issues, including governance of the organization and the future of the Full-Time Presidency Pilot, which will be put to members for a vote in the lead-up to the October 26 Annual General Meeting. If you have not had a chance to comment on the draft Strategic Plan, please take a moment to visit the wiki and share your views on the priorities that will shape our Association between now and 2023.

We’re also continuing to deliver on our ongoing program of professional events, including monthly virtual PAFSO breakfasts. July’s event, which took place on the 14th, saw close to 90 of you joining in to listen to Richard Sharpe of the Federal Black Employees Caucus share the lived experience of racism in the federal public service. If you were unable to participate in this very important discussion, you can listen to a recording of the meeting here. I am very pleased with how successful these first two installments of the Virtual PAFSO Breakfast, and look forward to bringing you other interesting speakers in this form. Please send me an email if you have any suggestions for speakers or topics.

For all questions or concerns about your particular work situation, please email our executive director Kim Coles. She will gladly put you in touch with one of our labour relations advisors. For all other questions, contact at any time.

Our virtual coffee check-ins are now on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 1030. I hope you can join in. Also, if you would like me to schedule a chat for Wednesday evening, just drop me an e-mail by Tuesday night my time.

And, in a final sad note, I would like to take a moment to note that today marks 586 days since our PAFSO friend and colleague Michael Kovrig and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor have been detained. It’s past time to bring them home.

We’ll talk more in 14 days. Between now and then, take care of yourselves and of each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld

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