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

Dear members,

We’ve now officially passed the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. There’s no question that our normal lives have been disrupted, and we can’t ignore the impact and the toll this virus has had on us all.

Yet, while many of us did retreat to the safety of our homes to work remotely, we kept on working in the service of Canada and Canadians. From the mad scramble of last spring’s repatriations (recently recounted in this great article by Mike Blanchfield) to the daily maintenance of critical operations, Canada’s Foreign Service has kept calm and carried on. The same is true here at PAFSO, where we have managed to keep our services to you running since moving to remote work on 16 March.

I am happy to have some good news to share on some important issues that we’ve been engaged on for some time. Last week, GAC issued an update on their vaccination plan for employees currently abroad and those departing this year. Employees and their dependents at missions in host nations with access to the vaccines authorized by Health Canada should seek vaccinations locally. A federal allocation of vaccines has been granted for staff and their dependents in regions with limited health care infrastructure, without vaccination plans or without access to Health Canada approved vaccines. In some regions, such as hardship postings, Health Canada will be working with the Canadian Armed Forces to establish vaccination hubs. All this along with the recent approval of a third and fourth vaccine, is a great relief for our members posted abroad. We will, of course, keep you posted as more information becomes available.

Last Friday we were pleased to learn that members returning to Canada under FSDs 50, 51, 18, and 35, can get reimbursed for expenses related to the now-mandatory 3-night stay at a government-authorized hotel upon entry to Canada while they await their COVID test results. Today, we learned that those same provisions will apply to those cross-posting through Canada under FSD 15. Admissible expenses will be reimbursed to maximum of $2,000 per person, not exceeding $10,000 per family. Such expenses would include accommodation and related fees at the government-authorized hotels, transportation to and from the airport and hotel (if required) and meals. Reimbursement will be made based on actual expenses, so receipts must be retained for all expenses. It is important to note that, as with everything, the current measure may be subject to change as the pandemic situation evolves. FSD Client Advisors should be your first point of contact for all questions related to travel and coverage of expenses. We are happy that GAC has taken a compassionate and common-sense approach and we hope other issues will be resolved in the same spirit.

If you are anything like me, you are finding the rapidly-changing and often-contradictory information on the overall pandemic and vaccination situation confusing and frustrating. In an effort to help all of us understand what to expect next, I will be hosting a webinar at 2000 Ottawa time on Tuesday, 23 March with epidemiologist Dr. Raywat Deonandan. Dr Deonandan will summarize the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic, discuss the various vaccines in Canada and abroad, explain the hierarchy of evidence used to make public health decisions, and offer guidance on the best sources of pandemic information. Please register here for the session, which is open to all. If you have a question you would like Dr. Deonandan to answer in his presentation, please submit it here before noon on Monday 22 March.

In non-COVID news, earlier this month, PAFSO reached an agreement with Treasury board on additional compensation for Phoenix-related issues. Some of our members will receive up to $1,000 in compensation for the late implementation of our 2014 contract. Others may see even more in general damages related to Phoenix. You can read more details about the new agreement here.

As part of our ongoing PAFSO Virtual Breakfast series, we had the pleasure of hosting an engaging discussion on enduring leadership, both personal and organizational, with Michel Salmon of Lumas Inc. In case you missed it, you can watch a recording of the session hereClick here to download Michel’s presentation slide deck.

As always, for all questions or concerns about your situation at work, contact our executive director, Kim Coles. She will put you in touch with our labour relations team. For anything else, send an email to info@pafso.com and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Community is more important than ever as this pandemic drags on. On Wednesdays at 1030 Ottawa time we get together for an informal virtual coffee. If you feel like joining in, click here. If time zones make it so you can’t join us at the regular time, drop me an e-mail to see if we can set up a session that suits you better.

For many of you at home and abroad, Radio Canada International (RCI) has been an important source of news and information, as well as a significant public diplomacy resource. Therefore, we were very saddened to learn of CBC International’s decision to let go of all but 3 of RCI’s journalists and implement a number of other changes that would dminish the organization’s core mandate. PAFSO joins our retired colleagues in calling on the CBC to reconsider these measures, which will come into effect on 1 April. We also ask members to visit the RCI Action Committee’s web page and consider taking action to support their cause.

We must continue to support one another, show compassion and understanding and know that working together, we will get through this. I want to take this moment to acknowledge and thank all of you for your courage, resilience and commitment to our profession. At the same time, I would also like to ask you to take a moment to remember the situation of our friend and colleague Michael Kovrig, who is scheduled to face trial in China on Monday. He and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor have been unjustly imprisoned since 10 December 2018 and PAFSO has been supporting the efforts of their friends and families and Government of Canada to bring them home. If you would like to show your solidarity with the two Michaels, please consider downloading and sharing our graphics on your social media.

My next regular message would normally come in two weeks, but since that falls on a statutory holiday, I will write to you again on 16 April, unless there is breaking news before that. Until then, please take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld
President

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