COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for May 1, 2020

Dear members:

We close yet another week of living through this pandemic. And, while the world passes a grim new milestone with the number of COVID-19 cases surpassing three million, at home we are starting to see some glimmers of hope.

The infection rate in Canada is slowing down, doubling every 16 days now instead of every three. The premiers of Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, PEI, Quebec and Ontario have all announced their plans to reopen their provinces for business. And TBS has begun laying the groundwork for a return to normal operations across the federal public service.

Of course, all of this positive news is tempered by a healthy measure of caution. If we are to avoid a second wave of the virus in the fall, re-openings must be gradual, responsible and guided by medical data. We’re not out of the woods just yet.

Through all this, our work here at PAFSO continues. The National Joint Council’s COVID-19 Task Force is still working to consolidate questions, concerns and recommendations from the heads of the Bargaining Agents regarding plans for an eventual return to work. Some progress has also been made with respect to occupational health and safety at missions abroad, and some of the committee’s recommendations have already been implemented. We are also working through other issues including the procedure for medical clearance to allow people to return to work, the roadmap to return to full operations, and the revisions to Annex B of the Occupational Health and Safety guidelines, which pertains to missions abroad.

Although I had hoped to have an update for you on the Treasury Board’s planning process for the eventual return to business, we did not have that discussion at the Task Force this week. It seems that despite decisions made at the provincial level, a full return-to-work by the federal public service is still at least some weeks away. Although we would all like to have as much certainty as we can as quickly as we can, I am happy that the Employer is taking a measured approach to this process.

Earlier today, I met with GAC, where we discussed the measures the department is taking to safeguard the psychological health of employees and the services that are available to you. I was glad to learn that GAC is preparing for the psychological aspects of the eventual return to more normal operations.

We are also seeking clarity on the process of medical clearances for those who wish to return to post, eligibility for extensions to postings for those who have been evacuated, and the process for opting out of staying at post. We have made the point that those who do not wish to stay until 2021 must be free to make that choice without undue pressure or career consequences. This issue ties into our ongoing concern about your psychological well-being, especially those of you who have been working on the emergency response and are already exhausted. GAC has promised to work with us on these questions and to update their FAQ document based on your input as soon as possible.

I am pleased to report that our efforts to address continuing pressures facing our Management-Consular stream in particular, which has been bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis and its consular and operational impact on missions abroad have begun to bear fruit.  Yesterday, GAC issued guidance to managers on overtime that recommends one day of rest after three days of overtime whenever possible, and a seven-day rest period after 21 days of continuous work. Although they may not be easy to implement in some situations, these guidelines should encourage managers to put employee health and safety first.

Your MCO representatives on ExCom, Keely Hunter and Bronson Borst, continue to complile your suggestions on possible measures. We will present them to GAC next week, so please send your comments directly to them or to info@pafso.com if you have not done so already.

As always, should you have any particular questions or concerns, do not hesitate to send them along to info@pafso.com. And you can always contact our Executive Director Kim Coles and her labour relations team if you need any assistance with your current situation.

I want to extend my thanks to all of you who took the time to complete our snapshot questionnaire. (If you haven’t yet, click here to fill it out before close of business today.) Your answers so far have provided us with valuable insights, and I look forward to sharing them with you in our virtual town hall sessions on Thursday, May 7.

You can sign up here for the 1200 session and here for the 2000 session (All times are Ottawa Time). Please send your questions to info@pafso.com before noon on Wednesday, May 6. I hope you are able to join us.

And, don’t forget our virtual coffee check-ins, weekdays at 1030 Ottawa time and Wednesday evenings at 2000 Ottawa time.

We’ll chat next week. Until then, take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld
President



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