COVID-19 Update from the President of PAFSO for May 7, 2021

Dear members,

It’s been three weeks since my last message. And here in the National Capital Region, spring has arrived, and the tulips are in full bloom. We’re finally starting to think about – perhaps not a return to normal – but rather a transition to the next normal. However, we must navigate the difficult third wave first.

I know the situation is not the same around the world, and for those of you in places such as India, things are particularly difficult. I was very sorry to learn yesterday about the loss of Moosa Peters, a locally-engaged member of DELHI’s Immigration team, who touched the lives of many PAFSO members. I offer our condolences to all of you, and to his loved ones.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Employee Assistance Program at GAC (solutions@international.gc.ca) or at IRCC (1-800-268-7708) if you need some support in dealing with this or anything else during this difficult time.

With an eye on our eventual return to the workplace in Canada, Claudia Zovatto from Treasury Board presented the Public Service Occupational Health Program’s vaccination framework at last month’s meeting of the National Joint Council’s COVID-19 Taskforce. She emphasized the fact that vaccination is not a substitute for the recommended preventative health measures already in place throughout the federal government. Until advised otherwise by public health authorities, all federal departments and agencies will maintain infection prevention and control measures such as remote working, staggered shifts, physical distancing, mask wearing, etc. So, while there is presently no regulation or policy which requires employees to be vaccinated in order to access their workplace, the Employer is committed to a continued rigorous implementation and adherence to the above measures to ensure the safety of all of its employees. I did raise the point that PSOHP’s framework did not clearly address the Employer’s duty of care for frontline workers abroad. I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer, but I will be sure to update you as soon as I do.

Many of you have also expressed concerns about the rollout of vaccines to employees, dependents, and locally-engaged staff at our missions abroad. While we agree that GAC could do a better job on the communications front, we know that the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force and its partners, including many PAFSO members, have been working extremely hard to get vaccines to posts. The logistical requirements are formidable and include factors such as the suitability, approval status, and availability of different types of vaccines, the need to work with PHAC and Health Canada to balance overseas and domestic requirements in drawing on the federal allocation, security and cold chain considerations, availability of CAF or commercial flights and couriers, local import and entry requirements, availability of medical service providers, visas, quarantine restrictions, and testing. All of these factors can vary widely from place to place, meaning that the Task Force needs to develop a multi-pronged approach for each area in consultation with missions and geographics. Despite all these challenges, we understand that some hard-hit missions will be receiving their first vaccines as early as this weekend and that other deliveries are en route to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Although PAFSO is engaged in discussions with GAC at the policy level, every mission is included in the plan and there is no one-size-fits-all plan for distribution. Therefore, your best source of the most accurate information for your particular circumstances remains your mission and geographic management.

We have been receiving some rather disturbing accounts from our colleagues posted in some of the hardest-hit areas, including reports that some were being asked to make their way to the office for routine tasks despite high rates of infection. I raised the issue at this week’s meeting of the NJC COVID-19 Taskforce, flagging that we will need support from Treasury Board in order to deal with the situation. They have agreed to follow up directly with the missions involved, and I will be sure to keep you informed as this situation develops.

As we head into posting season, some of you have begun to receive instructions from GAC’s Vaccination Campaign Administrator about receiving the Covid vaccination through CAF clinics before your departure from Canada. The initial communication, which indicates that employees who have already received one shot through their provincial health care systems are not eligible for the CAF shot, is confusing and PAFSO will be following up to see if we can get clarity for everyone. In the meantime, however, we recommend that those of you who are concerned about this situation reply to the instruction e-mail [COVID_Vaccine_Appointement/Rendez-vous_Vaccination_COVID@international.gc.ca], copying your assignment officer, and alert them to your circumstances. If you don’t receive a satisfactory response, please contact our office for support.

We continue to hear from members who feel that their pre-posting medical evaluations are being conducted in an unfair or discriminatory manner. You should know that since July 2020, Health Canada has put in place a framework through which you can have the evaluation conducted by your own physician. If you need more information, or if you feel that your evaluation was conducted unfairly, do not hesitate to reach out to us for assistance. We will gladly put you in touch with one of our labour relations advisers.

Despite the demands of the pandemic, we have not forgotten about other issues, including the health and safety of members being posted to Havana. In response to recent concerns about the information being provided to employees as part of the assignment process, we sought a briefing with GAC and were assured that they are doing their best to provide accurate risk assessments and mitigation measures. Nonetheless, we recommend that you contact us if you have any concerns about a possible assignment to HAVAN (or to any other mission, for that matter). Our Labour Relations Advisors can help make sure you have what you need to make a properly informed decision.

Our Labour Relations team is also working with members who are considering complaints about the FS03 competitions at GAC and IRCC.  We understand that notices of consideration and appointment will soon be coming out for GAC, so if you are contemplating such an action, please consult the Staffing Complaint FAQ on our website to ensure you are aware of the relevant deadlines.

In other matters, our monthly PAFSO Virtual Breakfast will take place next Tuesday. Stewart Wheeler, Chief of Protocol of Canada will be joining us on 11 May at 0800, Ottawa time, for a discussion focused on creative networking during the COVID-19 pandemic. To register, click here.

If you have any concerns about your situation at work, please do not hesitate to contact Kim Coles, our executive director. She will make sure to put you in contact with one of our labour relations advisors. For all other matters, just email info@pafso.com and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

For those looking for an informal chat, we still get together for a virtual coffee every Wednesday at 1030, Ottawa time. Click here if you feel like joining in. And, in case time zones make that hour inconvenient, drop me an e-mail and I’ll see if I can set something up that works better for you.

Although vaccinations are offering us a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in that tunnel, at least for now. However, there are many people, including many of our own colleagues, working hard to make sure these dark days do not last forever. I hope you will take some comfort in the fact that their efforts are starting to bear fruit and that, in the NCR and other places in the northern hemisphere, the pandemic has not prevented the tulips from blooming on schedule.

We’ll chat again in two weeks. Until then, please take care of yourselves and each other.

All the best,

Pam Isfeld
President

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