COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for June 5, 2020

Dear members:

Even as we, and the rest of the world, deal with the continuing effects of the COVID-19 crisis, the situation south of our border leave me at a loss for words. It’s all too easy to dismiss these events as problems that exist only over there. But such willful blindness only shutters this issue at home and stifles the conversations we need to be having.

Standing up for equality starts with understanding that systemic racism is real. It exists here in Canada. And it exists in our workplaces. As part of our effort to shine a spotlight on these issues, our July 14 PAFSO Breakfast will feature Richard Sharpe of the Federal Black Employees Caucus. He will discuss the lived experience of black racism in the federal public service and propose some concrete ideas for how people in positions of leadership, as well as general employees, can better listen, be allies, and act. I am also looking forward to hearing his views on how unions can better use their power in the fight against racism. (Please watch this space for more details closer to the event.)

As President of PAFSO, I feel the need to reaffirm our own commitment to fighting against all forms of discrimination. If you feel that you are the victim of racism or other form of discrimination – or if you have witnessed any kind of discrimination in the workplace – do not hesitate to contact us immediately. PAFSO is here to defend the rights of all of its members. We have the knowledge, the expertise and the qualified staff to assist you every step of the way. PAFSO always has – and always will – stand for equality.

This brings me to an issue that has begun to get more worrisome in the last few weeks. It seems like 699 leave is being restricted by some departments and that some individual managers at GAC and IRCC are applying the provisions unfairly in cases where the employee faces childcare or other restrictions. From our perspective, this latest pushback from the Employer is adversely affecting members based on their family circumstances. Bertrand Myre, one of our Labour Relations Advisors, has taken the lead on this case. He continues to press the employer for clarity on this ongoing concern.

Another issue that caused us concern is the Employer’s blanket policy that employees or dependents, who were repatriated under FSD64 for reasons of “vulnerability” will have their postings terminated without a prior medical exam. Although there is a provision for employees to request a medical assessment in order to reverse the decision, it is our position that the Employer must assess case individually prior to taking action that could have adverse effects on the employee to see if any medical condition – should there be any – can be accommodated. (Please see here for more information on the basis for PAFSO’s stance.)

Our immediate focus is on those who were repatriated in the last few months but the decisions and interpretations that are made now could affect PAFSO members of all streams, as well as other members of the broad foreign service, for some time to come. Health Canada has advised the Employer that those with a very broad list of medical conditions, as well as age 65 or over,  or pregnant or “with the possibility of becoming pregnant” should not be posted abroad or travel for temporary duty until the current pandemic situation stabilizes, which is likely to include the availability and administration of a vaccine (and could take years). While we recognize that the Employer has a duty of care to all of us, they need to establish a clear, transparent, and fair set of criteria prior to making decisions that affect the careers—and lives—of our members and their families.

At my meeting with GAC this afternoon, I reiterated PAFSO’s understanding that this is a complicated situation, along with our desire to contribute to a constructive solution that allows the Employer to protect the health and safety of employees while respecting their rights. We would strongly prefer to reach such a solution before the damage is done and members are forced to seek recourse after the fact for discrimination on the grounds of medical status, age, gender, and/or family status.  We will continue to press the issue at both the departmental and TBS levels and will keep you informed of our progress.

You can always contact executive director Kim Coles with your questions or concerns on FSD64, leave 699, or any other issue, and she will put you in touch with one of our labour relations advisors. If there is anything else you need assistance with, or if you have any questions, do not hesitate to send them to at any time, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

With everything that is going on, it’s no surprise that psychological health and well-being is a key concern for everyone.  I hope you will be able to join me for next week’s PAFSO Virtual Breakfast on Tuesday, June 9 at 0800, where Alexandre Lévêque and I will be discussing our role and experience as GAC’s Psychological Well-Being Co-Champions.  Please click here to sign up for the Zoom session. If you have any questions for either of us, please send them to me before close of business on Monday June 8 so I can make sure we address them during the session.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked members of the FS Facebook group how often you would like to receive these messages now that we are moving into the “long haul” phase of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The consensus was that people would still like to hear from PAFSO regularly, but that we could reduce our frequency to every two weeks. Accordingly, starting today, you will receive regular messages from me on the first and third Friday of every month, unless I have something very urgent or time-sensitive to discuss.

However, if you would like to connect with us in the meantime, you are always welcome to join our daily virtual coffee check-ins: every weekday at 1030 and Wednesday evenings at 2000 Ottawa time.

Take care of yourselves and each other. I will be in touch again on June 19.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld

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